A letter written by the Duchess of Sussex to her father “signalled the end” of their relationship, Thomas Markle has told the High Court.
He said in a statement that instead of a reconciliation attempt, the letter was a “criticism” of him.
Meghan is suing the publisher of the Mail on Sunday and Mail Online over articles that reproduced parts of the private handwritten letter.
Her lawyers claim this was a “plain and serious invasion” of her privacy.
Meghan, 39, sent the letter, which her lawyers described as “intrinsically private, personal and sensitive”, to her father in August 2018, following her marriage to Prince Harry in May that year. The couple are now living in the US with their son Archie.
She is seeking damages for alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act over five articles, published in February 2019, which included extracts from the “private and confidential” letter to her father.
‘Set the record straight’
Mr Markle said in a witness statement provided to the hearing, which started on Tuesday, that he had to “defend himself” against an article in People magazine. It carried an interview with a “longtime friend” of his daughter, who suggested Meghan sent the letter to repair her relationship with her father – something he claimed was false.
The People article, he claimed, made him appear “dishonest, exploitative, publicity-seeking, uncaring and cold-hearted”.
He said he had “never intended to talk publicly about Meg’s letter” until he read the People magazine piece which, he claimed, suggested he was “to blame for the end of the relationship”.
“The content of that article caused me to change my mind,” he said. “It was only by publishing the text of the letter that I could properly set the record straight and show that what People magazine had published was false and unfair.”
He said he had repeatedly tried to get in touch with Meghan after her wedding to Prince Harry, which he did not attend, adding: “I couldn’t find a way of getting her to talk to me.”
Mr Markle said his daughter did not ask how he was in the letter, adding: “It showed no concern about the fact I had suffered a heart attack and asked no questions about my health.
“It actually signalled the end of our relationship, not a reconciliation.”
In the remote hearing, Meghan’s lawyers told the court the letter was written in sorrow rather than anger and was an attempt to get her father to stop talking to the press.
Meghan’s lawyers also pointed out the articles themselves had emphasised the private nature of the correspondence – and dismissed any argument that it was in the public interest for the newspaper to reproduce the letter, saying the public interest was at the “very end of the bottom end of the scale”.
They are asking for summary judgement – in effect, a dismissal of Associated Newspapers Limited’s defence before a full trial takes place. Meghan’s lawyers argue ANL has “no prospect” of defending the privacy and copyright claims being brought against them.
Justin Rushbrooke, representing the duchess, has described the handwritten letter as “a heartfelt plea from an anguished daughter to her father”, sent to Mr Markle at his Mexico home via “the claimant’s accountant… to minimise the risk of interception”.
He said the “contents and character of the letter were intrinsically private, personal and sensitive in nature” and that Meghan “had a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of the contents of the letter”.
The effect of publishing the letter was “self-evidently likely to be devastating for the claimant”, said Mr Rushbrooke.
The barrister argued that, even if ANL was justified in publishing parts of the letter, “on any view the defendant published far more by way of extracts from the letter than could have been justified in the public interest”.
‘Expectation of privacy’
The newspaper group’s barrister Antony White said that Meghan’s status as a member of the royal family was relevant to the case.
In response to that point, Mr Rushbrooke said: “Yes, she is in some senses a public figure, but that does not reduce her expectation of privacy in relation to information of this kind.”
But Mr White also argued “there is a very real question as to whether the claimant will be able to establish that she had a reasonable – or any – expectation of privacy”.
In written submissions he said “she must, at the very least, have appreciated that her father might choose to disclose it” and pointed out that the Kensington Palace communications team had been shown the letter before it was sent.
“No truly private letter from daughter to father would require any input from the Kensington Palace communications team,” said Mr White.
The full trial of the duchess’s claim had been due to be heard at the High Court this month, but last year the case was adjourned until autumn 2021.
This interim remote hearing – to consider the request for summary judgement – is due to last two days. Mr Justice Warby, who is hearing the case, is expected to reserve his judgement to a later date.
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