Meghan Markle alleges her estranged father Thomas was ‘harassed and exploited’ by the press despite not speaking to him for two years or asking if he agrees with her claims, the High Court heard today at the outset of a historic legal case.
The Duchess of Sussex, 38, is suing Associated Newspapers, owner of the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline, over an article which reproduced parts of a handwritten letter she sent to Mr Markle, 75, in August 2018, three months after he failed to walk her down the aisle following a heart attack.
The first stage of her case started at the High Court today where the publisher made an application to have parts of her claim thrown out. The duchess and her husband Prince Harry are believed to be watching online from Los Angeles during her celebrity barrister David Sherborne’s submissions.
Antony White QC, for Associated Newspapers, today told judge Mr Justice Warby it is ‘curious’ that the Mail on Sunday is accused of ‘harassing, humiliating, manipulating and exploiting’ Mr Markle when his daughter hasn’t spoken to him.
He said claims made by Meghan about her father ‘appear to have been put on to the record without the claimant (Ms Markle) having contacted her father to see if he agrees with them’.
The estranged father of the Duchess of Sussex is expected to be called as a key witness for the defence in a court case she has brought against a newspaper (pictured: Meghan Markle as a youngster, with her father Thomas Markle)
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex leaving the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey, London on Commonwealth Day, on March 9 this year, their last royal engagement before quitting for the US
The case was heard online by judge Mr Justice Warby (bottom left), with Ms Markle represented by celebrity barrister David Sherborne and Associated Newspapers represented by Antony White QC
The text messages between Prince Harry, Meghan and Thomas Markle in the days before their wedding – and their public fallout
May 13, 2018
One week before the wedding, it is revealed that Mr Markle staged ‘paparazzi’-style photographs.
May 15 2018
Mr Markle writes to his daughter stating he is sorry for the furore over the posed photographs, offers to make a public apology to both her and Prince Harry, and says he will not go to the wedding as he wants to spare her from any further embarrassment. Later that day, Mr Markle suffers chest pains and goes into hospital with suspected congestive heart failure.
Three messages sent by Harry:
‘Tom, it’s Harry and I’m going to call you right now. Please pick up, thank you’
‘Tom, Harry again! Really need to speak to u. U do not need to apologize, we understand the circumstances but ‘going public’ will only make the situation worse. If u love Meg and want to make it right please call me as there are two other options which don’t involve u having to speak to the media, who incidentally created this whole situation. So please call me so I can explain. Meg and I are not angry, we just need to speak to u. Thanks’
‘Oh any speaking to the press WILL backfire, trust me Tom. Only we can help u, as we have been trying from day 1’.
Later on May 15 2018
Mr Markle taken into critical care in hospital diagnosed with suspected congestive heart failure.
Mr Markle texted his daughter to say he was ‘back in the hospital’.
Meghan’s legal document claims she ‘first learned’ of her father’s heart attack hospitalisation from his statement to the American gossip website TMZ.
Her text message response: ‘I’ve been reaching out to you all weekend but you’re not taking any of our calls or replying to any texts… Very concerned about your health and safety and have taken every measure to protect you but not sure what more we can do if you don’t respond…Do you need help? Can we send the security team down again? I’m very sorry to hear you’re in the hospital but need you to please get in touch with us… What hospital are you at?’.
Ten minutes later, she wrote: ‘Harry and I made a decision earlier today and are dispatching the same security guys you turned away this weekend to be a presence on the ground to make sure you’re safe… they will be there at your disposal as soon as you need them. Please please call as soon as you can.. all of this is incredibly concerning but your health is most important’.
Using Meghan’s phone, Harry then sent a further message ‘to provide Mr Markle with the details of the security team’. Harry ‘pleaded with Mr Markle to let them help him’.
May 16 2018
Mr Markle undergoes emergency heart surgery and apologises to his daughter that he will not be attending wedding, but receives a reply from Prince Harry ‘admonishing Mr Markle for talking to the press and telling him to stop and accusing Mr Markle of causing hurt to his daughter. The text did not ask how the surgical procedure had gone or how Mr Markle was or send him good wishes. Mr Markle was deeply hurt and responded with a curt message: ‘I’ve done nothing to hurt you Meghan or anyone else … I’m sorry my heart attack is there any inconvenience for you’.
Meghan says that as a result of this ‘unpleasant’ message, she phoned her father ‘a further four times within five minutes of the message being sent, but he declined to pick up.’
Harry also texted Mr Markle from her phone: ‘Tom, it’s Harry, please answer your phone. I need to know this is actually you because it doesn’t sound like you at all’. Meghan claims: ‘No response was received.’
February 6, 2019
People magazine publishes ‘The Truth about Meghan – Her Best Friends Break Their Silence’. Meghan’s friends give interview about Meghan and her estrangement from Thomas Markle, including her letter.
The article was reported on worldwide. But according to Meghan, she did not organise or authorise her friends to refer to the letter in People magazine
February 7 2019
Kensington Palace refuses to comment on whether Meghan’s friends had given the interview at the request of Meghan, or with her consent.
February 10 2019
Thomas Markle gives a copy of the Letter to the Mail on Sunday together with his own account of the reasons for their estrangement.
The newspaper then publishes extracts from letter and Thomas Markle’s reply to People magazine correcting what he says were false and misleading slurs by Meghan’s friends.
Meghan Markle claims her father’s decision to give the note to the Mail on Sunday breached her privacy, copyright and data protection rights, and her legal team has claimed she was ‘shocked and deeply upset’ when her ‘private letter’ to Mr Markle was made public.
But the publisher wholly denies the allegations – particularly the claim that the letter was edited in any way that changed its meaning – and says it will hotly contest the case, claiming the story was in the public interest.
Associated Newspapers also allege that four days before the MoS piece on February 10 2019, the Duchess had already ‘expressly or tacitly’ allowed friends to leak the contents of the letter to People magazine, breaching her own privacy.
Thomas Markle has claimed he felt pressured to share the letter with the press after its contents were misrepresented and he was ‘vilified’ in the US article, telling the Mail on Sunday: ‘I have to defend myself. I only released parts of the letter because other parts were so painful. The letter didn’t seem loving to me. I found it hurtful.’
Lawyers for The Mail On Sunday and MailOnline have also claimed that the Duchess of Sussex’s ‘immaculate’ handwriting in a letter to her father is proof she intended it to be published.
Ms Markle’s claim describes her father as ‘vulnerable’ despite her cutting all ties with him after their public fallout just before the royal wedding at St George’s Chapel in Windsor.
At a preliminary hearing today, held online because of the coronavirus crisis, lawyers for Associated Newspapers asked the court to throw out parts of Meghan’s case including claims the decision to publish the letter was malicious.
Mr White QC also argued that part of Ms Markle’s claim for damages is ‘inadmissible’ and ‘should be struck out on the grounds of disproportionality’, adding that if the court finds in her favour it ‘would have consequences for the freedom of expression the press enjoys’.
David Sherborne, counsel for Meghan, opened his case saying it is ‘important to bear in mind’ that the case is about privacy, adding that this is ‘not surprising’ given that the publisher ‘disclosed to the whole world the detailed contents of a private letter of a daughter to her father’.
The routine hearing is a stepping stone to a full High Court trial in late 2020 or early 2021 that could see Meghan Markle and Thomas Markle coming face-to-face for the first time in more than two years and giving evidence against each other.
Meghan has branded Thomas a liar and denied she knew her influential friends planned to reveal details of their deteriorating relationship to an American magazine, court papers published earlier this week revealed.
The Mail on Sunday alleges that Meghan allowed a group of five close friends to leak details of the letter to People magazine on February 6 2019, which means the Duchess breached her own privacy.
Ms Markle insists her friends did it without her knowledge, according to court documents.
Sections of the letter were published in the newspaper and online in February last year, and it was announced in October that the duchess would be bringing legal action.
After today’s hearing, Mr Justice Warby will decide whether to exclude a series of elements of her case, probably in a written judgment in the coming weeks.
Experts believe the Duchess is ‘playing a very high stakes game’, which could see her facing her father in the High Court having cut off all contact with him since the royal wedding in May 2018.
Mark Stephens, a partner at Howard Kennedy, says if the case makes it to trial Meghan must testify – as well as her five anonymous friends who briefed People magazine about the contents of the letter before it was published by the Mail on Sunday.
Mr Stephens told Newsweek: ‘This has become a very high stakes game for Meghan because ultimately it gets into a situation of whether she’s telling the truth. All of her five friends are going to have to come into the case. They’re going to have to be cross-examined, she’s going to have to be cross-examined.
‘The Mail on Sunday’s QC is a brilliant cross-examiner. Even if she wins the case on a technicality she’s going to lose the war. She’s going to have huge lumps taken out of her reputationally.’
Gavin Millar QC, of Matrix Chambers, has predicted Ms Markle’s claim against the Mail on Sunday will be pared back.
He said: ‘I think the way the claim has been pleaded is overblown.
‘They’ve turned what ought to be a very straight-forward case about the correspondence and the privacy issues into a sort of public inquiry into the Mail’s journalism over a long period.
‘There’s a debate about whether the court should allow these kinds of things to go on. I think the court will pare the claim down from the way it’s been pleaded and narrow it down. I think the court will do that and it should be done.’
If the case goes before a judge for trial, the paper said it would ask for Meghan to be forced to hand over all communications in which she had ’caused or permitted her friends to provide information about her to the media or to seek to influence what is published about her’.
Thomas Markle, a retired Hollywood lighting director who lives in Rosarito, Mexico, has said his daughter cut off all contact with him after her wedding, except for the letter at the centre of the case. If he were to be called as a witness, he would effectively have to brand his own daughter a liar who had invaded her own privacy.
Meghan Markle branded her father Thomas a liar and denied she knew her influential friends planned to reveal details of their deteriorating relationship to an American magazine, court papers published earlier this week revealed.
Prince Harry ‘pleaded’ with Meghan’s father to accept their help in the fraught days before their wedding, it was claimed.
He wrote in a text message to Thomas Markle: ‘If u love Meg and want to make it right please call me.’
These previously unseen messages from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex cast new light on the breakdown in Meghan’s relationship with her father and she effectively calls him a liar.
In one message, Harry told him: ‘Speaking to the press WILL backfire, trust me Tom. Only we can help u.’
Thomas Markle with a baby Meghan Markle. A picture shown in the Channel 5 documentary called Thomas Markle: My Story, that aired earlier this year
The extraordinary High Court case has been dubbed ‘Markle vs Markle’ in which the duchess’s estranged father, 75, is prepared to give evidence against his own daughter.
Mr Markle had also made desperate attempts to mend their relationship after heart surgery forced him to miss the 2018 royal wedding, it was said.
On Monday, her legal team filed papers setting out her version of events, and detailing messages she and Harry had sent her father.
She admits five of her closest friends talked to People, but said it was without her knowledge – and she was ‘distressed’ they mentioned the letter.
She also claims she did not receive his texts after the wedding ‘reaching out to you’.
The papers submitted on Monday by the duchess’ legal team also state: ‘Mr Markle did not answer truthfully when asked about the photographs taken and staged by a paparazzo photographer…’
Thomas Markle showing souvenirs he keeps on mantlepiece of Harry and Meghan from the wedding he was unable to attend
Some of Mr Markle’s messages to his daughter were detailed in defence papers filed in January at the High Court in London by the Mail on Sunday.
The documents said that after Mr Markle messaged his daughter saying he couldn’t come to her wedding because he had been taken to hospital for emergency heart surgery, he received a text from Harry ‘admonishing’ him for talking to the Press.
Sent on May 16, the same day as his operation, the text from Harry did not ask how Mr Markle was, the newspaper’s legal document said. It said Mr Markle was deeply hurt and responded: ‘I’m sorry my heart attack is … any inconvenience for you’.
The Mail on Sunday’s case is that she effectively breached her own privacy because Mr Markle had kept his daughter’s handwritten note private for months, and only revealed it to expose false claims that the duchess had been reaching out to repair the relationship.
Meghan ‘knowingly’ allowed five close friends to leak details of the letter to People magazine to attack her father, the newspaper’s document stated. T
he result was a ‘one-sided’ interview published on February 6, 2019, in the celebrity weekly headlined: ‘Her best friends break their silence’ and ‘The truth about Meghan’.
The defence papers said: ‘Thomas Markle only released Meghan’s letter to the world to show it was not the ‘loving’ plea her friends had been making out.’