The Duchess of Sussex’s father kept her explosive letter ‘totally private’ for six months, only releasing extracts after an ‘attack’ from his daughter’s friends in a US magazine, a court heard last week.
The claim that Thomas Markle was provoked into releasing details of the letter is central to a privacy case at the Court of Appeal, which last week heard a series of bombshell revelations as one of Meghan’s former aides supplied fresh evidence.
Jason Knauf, Meghan’s press secretary at the time, provided the court with emails and text messages which showed how she had sought his advice while composing the letter to her father.
Meghan wrote: ‘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 let me know if anything stands out for you as a liability.’
She added: ‘If he leaks it then that’s on his conscience but at least the world will know the truth. Words I could never voice publicly.’
The Duchess of Sussex won a High Court privacy battle against The Mail on Sunday after we published extracts of the letter to her father. Associated Newspapers is now appealing to have the ‘summary judgement’ overturned in favour of a trial.
BEFORE THE RIFT: Meghan Markle with her father Thomas in 2011
During the three-day appeal hearing last week, it emerged that Meghan told her press aide that she had deliberately chosen to address the letter to ‘Daddy’ to ‘pull at the heartstrings’ of the public in the event that her father leaked it. Mr Knauf texted back: ‘The draft letter is very strong – enough emotion to be authentic, but all in resigned sadness rather than anger.’ He suggested a ‘few tweaks’ to the order of events that ‘could be a bit stronger – I think it’s slightly even worse than you remember… The only thing I think is essential to address in some way is the “heart attack”. That is his best opening for criticism and sympathy’.
Meghan texted Mr Knauf, who had saved the Duchess under the pseudonym ‘Tilly’ in his phone, saying: ‘My plan is to write it by hand and fedex it to [name redacted] who will then mail it to my father.’
In a statement to the court, Meghan said: ‘I went to considerable lengths to ensure that the Letter only went to my father, and that, in the event that it was intercepted or leaked, an eventuality I considered would be “unfortunate” if it happened, that its contents could not be manipulated or misleadingly edited.’
The messages highlight tensions within the family, with Meghan saying Harry, who she called ‘H’, was ‘constantly berated’.
After a visit to the Castle of Mey, where Meghan and Harry stayed with Charles and Camilla, Meghan wrote: ‘Even after a week with his dad and endlessly explaining the situation, his family seem to forget the context – and revert to “can’t she just go and see him and make this stop?” They fundamentally don’t understand, so at least by writing H will be able to say to his family “she wrote him a letter and he’s still doing it”. By taking this form of action, I protect my husband from this constant berating and while unlikely perhaps it will give my father a moment to pause.’
Lawyers acting for Associated Newspapers argue that the fact that the letter was drafted with the help of her press secretary – and its existence leaked to a US magazine – makes it a ‘public-facing’ document, rather than a purely private missive from daughter to father.
Andrew Caldecott QC, acting for the newspaper group, said: ‘[Mr Markle] had honoured the privacy in this letter until the People article appeared.
‘The article painted Meghan in a glowing light, while insisting the negative stories about her were lies. But Mr Markle says Meghan’s decision to reveal the letter left him with no choice but to go public. “The letter was presented in a way that vilified me and wasn’t true,” he said. “It was presented as her reaching out and writing a loving letter in the hope of healing the rift but the letter isn’t like that at all.”
‘Either we believe in freedom of expression or we do not. Mr Markle has been royally attacked in the People magazine in precisely the way he there describes, and this is his reply.’
In another twist, the Duchess was forced to apologise to the court after new evidence appeared to contradict a previous statement.
In September last year, the Sussexes’ lawyers said the couple ‘did not collaborate’ with authors Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand on their sympathetic biography Finding Freedom and any suggestion of co-operation was ‘utterly fantastical’.
Mr Scobie also told the court that month that ‘any suggestion the Duke and Duchess collaborated on the book is false’.
But last week written evidence showed that both Meghan and Harry had granted permission to Mr Knauf to talk to the authors.
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex attend Global Citizen Live, New York on September 25, 2021 in New York City
In a statement to the court, Mr Knauf said that in December 2018 the Sussexes had ‘authorised specific co-operation in writing’.
In one message, Harry wrote to Mr Knauf: ‘Are u planning on giving them a rough idea of what she’s been through over the last 2yrs? Media onslaught, cyber bullying on a different scale, puppeteering Thomas Markle etc etc etc.
‘Even if they choose not to use it, they should hear what it was like from someone who was in the thick of it.
‘So if you aren’t planning on telling them, can I?!’
MR KNAUF said he replied: ‘Of course – I’ve never stopped!’ to which Harry replied: ‘Oh how I hope they report on it properly. Good luck!’ During a two-hour meeting with the authors, Mr Knauf relayed the contents of a lengthy briefing note Meghan had written for that purpose.
Three appeal court judges are now being asked to overturn the original ‘summary judgment’ handed down by Lord Justice Warby and launch a full trial.
Lawyers acting for the Duchess argue that there is no need for a trial because ‘there is no prospect that a different judgment would be reached after a trial’.
Justin Rushbrooke QC, acting for the Duchess, added that Mr Knauf’s revelations could ‘not transform’ the case.
He argued that Meghan had a right to privacy over the contents of the letter ‘because any other answer leads to the proposition that the editor of a newspaper has the right to decide when to first publish a private letter, not the writer of the letter. That is not the law of this country. It would also invite questions about at what point does the writer of the letter lose their right of privacy.’
The three judges will give their verdict at a later date.