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Meghan Markle made a dramatic legal move this week, trying to get a judge to agree that her privacy and copyright infringement case against Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) was so clearly a slam dunk that the judge should just issue a “summary judgement” in their favor and call it a day.
ANL, as one may imagine, demurred, saying that they believed they had every chance of successfully defending themselves against Meghan’s action, and that the case should proceed to a full trial as planned.
The hearing, in front of High Court Judge Mr Justice Warby, took place on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. Judgement is not expected for a week or two.
One interesting feature of the proceedings was that no witnesses came into court; instead, lawyers supplied witness statements which were then read out in court. Both sides also had to provide skeleton arguments to the court, which The Daily Beast has seen.
Many royal observers are privately speculating that if Meghan loses the application for summary judgement she may drop the case and retreat to the soothing environs of her and Prince Harry’s Californian home in Montecito to lick their expensively incurred wounds.
For that reason, it will have made sense for Meghan to throw everything she had at this hearing, holding nothing back.
The documents filed to the court tell us a lot about exactly how the two sides intend to press their cases if the dispute does indeed move to a full trial.
Here are some of the headlines—and big questions—to emerge from the paperwork accompanying this week’s courtroom showdown.
Thomas Markle thinks People magazine misrepresented the letter sent by Meghan to her dad
Meghan’s dad filed a blistering witness statement to the court which left no doubt that he will be a formidable star witness for ANL if the case proceeds.
Much of the case revolves around the Mail on Sunday’s decision to publish extracts from a handwritten letter from Meghan to her estranged father, Thomas. Prima facie, this appears to be a clear breach of both her privacy and especially her copyright; the latter technically forbids people publishing a piece of writing—be it a letter, book or email—without the author’s consent.
However ANL argued in their skeleton argument that Meghan had “put a false account” of Thomas’ “relationship and communications with his daughter into the public domain.” ANL was referring to Meghan’s friends telling People magazine, in a controversial article, that Meghan had written a letter to her dad, which they characterized as loving and conciliatory.
ANL argued that the letter was anything but, and that Thomas had the right to allow the letter to be published in defiance of normal copyright rules because, “He was entitled to correct that false account,” and undo “the reputational harm that was inflicted on him as a result.”
Thomas Markle is spoiling for a fight
Thomas’ witness statement was remarkable for its cold fury, a clear sign that his feud with his daughter is a powerful animus for his participation in the action on the newspaper’s side.
His witness statement began by saying that he wanted “to explain my reasons for wanting the Defendant’s newspaper to publish extracts from my daughter Meg’s August 2018 letter to me.”
He wrote: “When I read the article ‘The Truth About Meghan’ in People magazine I was shocked by what it said about me. It was a total lie. It misrepresented the tone and content of the letter Meg had written me in August 2018. I quickly decided I wanted to correct that misrepresentation.”
Thomas said it appeared to him that “the article had either been expressly authorized by Meg or she had at the very least known about and approved of its publication. I believed (and still believe) that Meghan wanted her account of the letter to be published.” (Meghan has previously denied any advance knowledge of the article.)
Thomas went on to say that—as the sources for the article were said to be Meg’s “best friends”—it seemed to him that “she must have used these friends to pass information to the press, information that she wanted published, including information about the letter she had obviously told them she had written. I did not think her friends would have disclosed information about the letter unless she had asked them to.”
Thomas said his daughter didn’t ask how he was doing after his heart attack in the letter.
Even if Meghan ultimately wins the case, there is no doubt that the intervening mud-slinging could seriously harm her image. Who, for example, wants to be portrayed as so heartless they don’t even ask their dad about his heart attack?
Thomas alleged in his statement that the piece in People magazine suggested to people that Meghan wanted to repair the relationship. But, Markle alleged in his statement, “That suggestion was false. The letter was not an attempt at a reconciliation. It was a criticism of me. 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.”
Thomas’ suggestion that Meghan was indifferent to his health is demonstrably not true—previously released desperate texts from Meghan and Harry to Thomas (in one, Meghan wrote, “Very concerned about your health and safety”) after he was reported to have had a heart attack immediately before the wedding released last year show that. But by highlighting that she didn’t enquire into his health in this particular letter, Thomas portrays Meghan as heartless and hypocritical. And mud often sticks.
Thomas says he couldn’t contact his daughter
The People article quoted a friend of Meghan’s saying of Thomas: “It’s almost like they’re ships passing. He knows how to get in touch with her. Her telephone number hasn’t changed. He’s never called; he’s never texted. It’s super-painful, because Meg was always so dutiful. I think she will always feel genuinely devastated by what he’s done. And at the same time, because she’s a daughter, she has a lot of sympathy for him.”
Thomas says this statement is full of inaccuracies about him and that it suggested he was to blame for the end of the relationship as he had ignored her.
“That was false. I had repeatedly tried to reach her after the wedding but I couldn’t find a way of getting her to talk to me,” Markle said, adding, “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. 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.”
Omid Scobie carefully denied Harry and Meghan contributed to his and Carolyn Durand’s book Finding Freedom: Harry and Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal Family, but the Mail alleged her top staffer fact-checked it.
In a letter read out in court, writer Omid Scobie made a carefully worded statement that “neither Ms. Durand nor I had any discussions with the Duke or Duchess for the purposes of the book.”
Of course, that’s not quite the same thing as saying that Harry and Meghan didn’t arrange for private information, such as the nature of Harry’s uncharitable thoughts toward his “snobbish” brother when William referred to Meghan as “this girl”, to be passed along to Scobie and Durand.
There is certainly a tension between Scobie’s statement and that given by Ted Verity, the editor of the Mail on Sunday on this issue. Verity alleged that a well-placed royal source told him that Sara Latham, Meghan Markle’s most senior royal aide at the time, fact-checked the book to “make sure” the authors “got nothing wrong.”
However the reliability of Verity’s source is undermined somewhat by another claim they made to Verity that: “Omid Scobie was given a copy of the Claimant’s letter and that was going to ‘one of the big reveals’ in the Book.”
Scobie categorically denied seeing a copy of the letter in his witness statement. Not only does it seem unlikely he would have blithely perjured himself, but if he had seen the bombshell letter, one imagines he would have used it in his book—as Verity suggests he was planning to. Scobie actually just quoted sections of the letter published in the Mail, which he says he read in the newspaper like everyone else.
Sara Latham and other palace aides known as “The Palace Four,” will give evidence if called.
If ANL can prove Verity’s claim that Sara Latham, Meghan’s director of communications at the time, did indeed read and “fact-check” an advance copy of “Finding Freedom”, it will have landed a major blow on Meghan’s reputation. And proving it may be simply a matter of asking the right question. In a statement issued on her behalf, lawyers said she would be willing to give evidence if called for either side.
The letter also covered the position of another three formerly senior press aides in Meghan’s press team—Samantha Cohen, Christian Jones and Jason Knauf—who along with Latham have been dubbed “the Palace Four.” Teasingly, their attorneys said, “our preliminary view is that one or more of our clients would be in a position to shed some light” on whether or not Meghan “directly or indirectly provided private information (generally and in relation to the Letter specifically) to the authors of ‘Finding Freedom.’”