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‘It’s about standing up for what’s right’: Meghan wins Mail on Sunday court fight on letter

·5-min read
‘It’s about standing up for what’s right’: Meghan wins Mail on Sunday court fight on letter

The Duchess of Sussex has emerged victorious from her privacy battle with the Mail on Sunday despite last-minute bombshells from a former key aide.

Meghan, 40, sued the publisher of the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline over articles featuring extracts of the handwritten five-page note she sent to her father, Thomas Markle, in August 2018.

A judge dismissed the case of Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) and concluded Meghan should be awarded damages, and appeal court judges on Thursday upheld that decision despite a fightback from the media group.

The Duchess’ case was rocked during the appeal by revelations from her former communications secretary, Jason Knauf, who claimed Meghan specifically crafted the letter knowing it could be published.

A series of private messages between Mr Knauf and Meghan were released, showing she knew her father might leak the letter to the media.

Meghan was also forced to apologise for misleading the court over her co-operation with the authors of a biography, Finding Freedom – having earlier denied having any involvement with the book.

Delivering the ruling on Thursday morning, Chancellor of the High Court Sir Geoffrey Vos, sitting with Dame Victoria Sharp and Lord Justice Bean, said Mr Knauf’s new evidence was “of little assistance” and he characterised Meghan’s earlier evidence over the biography as an “unfortunate lapse of memory”.

Supporting the original decision of Mr Justice Warby, Sir Geoffrey said: “The Duchess had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of the Letter.

“Those contents were personal, private and not matters of legitimate public interest.”

Duchess makes statement

In a statement after the ruling, Meghan said: “This is a victory not just for me, but for anyone who has ever felt scared to stand up for what’s right.

“While this win is precedent setting, what matters most is that we are now collectively brave enough to reshape a tabloid industry that conditions people to be cruel and profits from the lies and pain that they create.

“From day one, I have treated this lawsuit as an important measure of right versus wrong. The defendant has treated it as a game with no rules.

“The longer they dragged it out, the more they could twist facts and manipulate the public (even during the appeal itself), making a straightforward case extraordinarily convoluted in order to generate more headlines and sell more newspapers — a model that rewards chaos above truth.

“In the nearly three years since this began, I have been patient in the face of deception, intimidation and calculated attacks.

“Today, the courts ruled in my favour — again — cementing that The Mail on Sunday, owned by Lord Jonathan Rothermere, has broken the law.”

The acrimonious legal fight was sparked by five articles in February 2019 which featured extracts of the letter the Duchess had sent to her father, pleading with him to stop talking to the media.

She insisted the missive was “deeply personal” and “self-evidently was intended to be kept private” when it was dispatched to Mr Markle’s ranch in Mexico.

The newspaper group argued Meghan knew her words might be leaked to the media, and says the news articles were intended to give Mr Markle a right of reply to a US magazine feature about their relationship.

However Sir Geoffrey said the tone of the articles, promising readers a look at the “sensational letter” had undermined the defence case.

“The Mail on Sunday articles focused on revealing the contents of the Letter, rather than providing Mr Markle’s response to the attack on him in People magazine”, he said, adding that just one paragraph of the letter would have been enough to set the record straight.

Mr Knauf, a former key aide to Meghan and Harry who now works for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, kept quiet in the early stages of the legal dispute but made a dramatic intervention saying he “considered it the right thing to do”.

He produced private messages between himself and Meghan, sent when she asked for his advice on a draft of the infamous letter.

“Obviously everything I have drafted is with the understanding that it could be leaked so I have been meticulous in my word choice but please do let me know if anything stands out for you as a liability”, she wrote.

Meghan referred to her father as “Daddy” in the letter, telling Mr Knauf it was her usual name for him but adding: “In the unfortunate event that it leaked it would pull at the heartstrings”.

She told Mr Knauf the letter was an effort to appease senior Royals who had been “berating” Prince Harry about her father’s damaging leaks, and concluded “at least the world will know the truth”.

Meghan had told the High Court in earlier statements that she had not been involved with Finding Freedom, a biography that ANL wants to rely on as evidence at trial.

However Mr Knauf revealed a lengthy briefing note that Meghan had written, providing talking points after he set up a meeting with the book’s authors. Prince Harry also knew about the meeting, telling Mr Knauf it would “help get some truths out there”.

Meghan told judges: “I apologise to the court for the fact that I had not remembered these exchanges at the time - I had absolutely no wish or intention to mislead the defendant or the court."

Meghan brought the legal claim against ANL alleging misuse of her private information, infringement of copyright and breaches of the Data Protection Act.

The case will now return to the High Court for damages to be determined. The Mail on Sunday has already been told to publish a front page apology to the Duchess, and could face a seven-figure costs bill.

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