Meghan Markle’s father Thomas said he believes his daughter “expressly authorized” or at least “approved” an article in People magazine about him that was “a total lie,” and which portrayed him as “dishonest, exploitative, publicity-seeking, uncaring and cold-hearted.”
Thomas, whose bombshell testimony was contained in a witness statement unsealed today in London’s High Court, said that a controversial letter written to him by his daughter in August 2018, four months after he missed her wedding to Prince Harry due to a heart attack, was a “criticism” of him that he thought “signaled the end of our relationship.”
Meghan is seeking a so-called “summary judgment” in her high profile privacy and copyright action against (ANL), triggered by the 2019 publication in the Mail on Sunday of sections of the letter she sent to her estranged father.
If successful, a summary judgment in Meghan’s favor would end much of the case without a full trial. Buckingham Palace is thought to be keen for Meghan to find a way to avoid being the first senior royal in living memory to undergo a grueling and potentially embarrassing cross-examination of her personal life in the witness box.
In the statement, made public at the High Court today, Thomas, who is the star witness for Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), the publishers of the Mail on Sunday, said he felt he was “vilified” in the article in People, in which five anonymous friends of Meghan’s sat down with the publication for interviews. Some of the friends referred to the letter.
Markle said in his statement, “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.”
ANL argues that Meghan allowed her friends to brief People on the contents of the letter, therefore putting it in the public domain. ANL says this entitled them to publish extracts from the letter, with Thomas’ consent, to correct the record on his behalf. Meghan rejects that interpretation of events and has denied organizing the friends to brief on her behalf.
The identity of the five friends is being protected by the court.
In his witness statement, Thomas, 76, said the handwritten correspondence from Meghan made no attempt at reconciliation. He said the letter did not even ask how he was doing following the heart attack, which he had suffered before his daughter’s wedding in May 2018, that prevented him from attending the nuptials.
Thomas said his decision to allow the newspaper to publish parts of the letter was prompted by the article in People magazine.
“I was shocked by what it said about me,” he said in the witness statement. “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.
“It seemed to me that the article had either been expressly authorized by Meg or she had at the very least known about and approved of its publication,” The Times reported.
Meghan, 39, is suing Associated Newspapers, the publisher of the Mail On Sunday and MailOnline, over a series of articles that reproduced parts of the handwritten letter sent to Mr. Markle in August 2018.
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.
He said, “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.”
Meghan said for her part that she had suffered an “assault” on her private and family life when the Mail on Sunday published the letter she had written to her father.
The Daily Beast earlier reported that Meghan’s lawyers said that she had put herself in “an unguarded and potentially vulnerable position” by writing to her father, and never intended the letter to be made public.
Meghan also doubled down on claims that she did not co-operate with Finding Freedom authors Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand.
Scobie “confirmed in his witness statement that neither he nor his co-author met with or interviewed the Claimant or her husband for the Book,” the legal argument submitted to the court by Meghan’s side says.
ANL argued that the letter had an unusual status as it was written, they claimed, with the assistance of a senior Kensington Palace press officer.
Antony White QC for ANL argued, “No truly private letter from daughter to father would require any input from the Kensington Palace communications team.”
White argued there is “a real prospect that the claimant will fail to establish either that she was the sole author in the copyright sense” as a result of the involvement of Jason Knauf, formerly communications secretary to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, in writing the letter.
However, Meghan’s team argue that she is the sole author of the letter, saying she spent many hours composing the letter on her iPhone and merely shared a draft of it “with her husband and Mr. Knauf for support, as this was a deeply painful process that they had lived through with her, and because Mr. Knauf was responsible for keeping the senior members of the Royal household apprised of any public-facing issues—the media spectacle surrounding Mr. Markle being one such issue. Mr. Knauf provided comments on the Electronic Draft in the form of “general ideas” as opposed to actual wording.”
Justin Rushbrooke Q.C., also representing the Duchess, described the hand-written letter as “a heartfelt plea from an anguished daughter to her father,” which Meghan sent to Markle “at his home in Mexico via a trusted contact... to reduce the risk of interception.”
He said the “contents and character of the letter were intrinsically private, personal, and sensitive in nature,” and Meghan therefore “had a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of the contents of the letter.”
Rushbrooke added in written submissions, “It is as good an example as one could find of a letter that any person of ordinary sensibilities would not want to be disclosed to third parties, let alone in a mass media publication, in a sensational context and to serve the commercial purposes of the newspaper.”
He said the decision to publish the letter was an assault on “her private life, her family life and her correspondence,” in documents submitted before the hearing.
Meghan’s team described as “utterly fanciful” claims that Meghan did not see the letter as completely private.
The full trial of the duchess’ claim was due to be heard at the High Court this month, but last year the case was adjourned until autumn 2021 for a confidential reason.