LONDON – Lawyers for the Duchess of Sussex asked a British judge on Tuesday to settle her lawsuit against a newspaper before it goes to trial by ruling that its publication of a “deeply personal” letter to her estranged father was “a plain and a serious breach of her rights of privacy.”
Meghan's latest attempt to protect her privacy laid bare more details of her fraught relationship with her estranged father, who claims he has been “vilified” as a dishonest publicity-seeker.
The former Meghan Markle, 39, is suing Associated Newspapers for invasion of privacy and copyright infringement over five February 2019 articles in the Mail on Sunday and on the MailOnline website that published portions of a handwritten letter to her father, Thomas Markle, after her marriage to Britain’s Prince Harry in 2018.
Associated Newspapers is contesting the claim, and a full trial is due to be held in the autumn at the High Court, in what would be one of London's highest-profile civil court showdowns for years.
The duchess is seeking a summary judgment that would find in her favor and dismiss the newspaper’s defense case. Her lawyer, Justin Rushbrooke, argued that the publisher had “no real prospect” of winning the case.
“At its heart, it’s a very straightforward case about the unlawful publication of a private letter,” he said at the start of a two-day hearing, held remotely because of coronavirus restrictions.
Lawyers for the duchess say Thomas Markle, a retired television cinematographer, caused anguish for Meghan and Harry before their May 2018 wedding by giving media interviews and posing for wedding-preparation shots taken by a paparazzi agency. In the end, he didn't attend the wedding ceremony after suffering a heart attack.
Rushbrooke said Meghan's letter, sent in August 2018, was “a message of peace” whose aim was “to stop him talking to the press."
He said the duchess took steps to ensure the five-page, 1,250-word letter wouldn't be intercepted, sending it by FedEx through her accountant to her father’s home in Mexico. The letter implored Thomas Markle to stop speaking to the media, saying: “Your actions have broken my heart into a million pieces.”
The last sentences, read out in court, were: “I ask for nothing other than peace. And I wish the same for you.”
Rushbrooke said the fact that the duchess is a public figure “does not reduce her expectation of privacy in relation to information of this kind.”
He said “the sad intricacies of a family relationship … is not a matter of public interest.”
Lawyers for Associated Newspapers argue that Meghan wrote the letter knowing it would eventually be published. They say it came into the public domain when friends of the duchess described it in anonymous interviews with People magazine.
Thomas Markle says he allowed the Mail to publish portions of the letter to “set the record straight” after reading the People article.
In a written witness statement submitted by the defense, he said the article “had given an inaccurate picture of the contents of the letter and my reply and had vilified me by making out that I was dishonest, exploitative, publicity-seeking, uncaring and cold-hearted, leaving a loyal and dutiful daughter devastated.”
“I had to defend myself against that attack," he said.
“The letter was not an attempt at a reconciliation. It was a criticism of me," Markle added. "The letter didn’t say she loved me. It did not even ask how I was. It showed no concern about the fact I had suffered a heart attack and asked no questions about my health. It actually signaled the end of our relationship, not a reconciliation."
In October, judge Mark Warby agreed to Meghan’s request to postpone the trial, scheduled to begin this month, until October or November 2021. He said the reason for the delay should remain secret.
Meghan, an American actress and star of TV legal drama “Suits,” married Harry, one of the grandsons of Queen Elizabeth II, in a lavish ceremony at Windsor Castle in May 2018. Their son, Archie, was born the following year.
A year ago, Meghan and Harry announced they were quitting royal duties and moving to North America, citing what they said was the unbearable intrusions and racist attitudes of the British media. They recently bought a house in Santa Barbara, California.