Meghan Markle's father claims her letter 'signalled the end' of their relationship

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Victoria Ward
·8 min read
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Meghan Markle - Getty
Meghan Markle - Getty

The Duchess of Sussex’s father has revealed that a letter she sent him “signalled the end” of their relationship rather than being a “message of peace”, as she has claimed.

In a damning witness statement, Thomas Markle, 76, tore strips from his daughter’s version of events, insisting that he had been forced to speak out to defend himself from attack after his own side was misrepresented by her friends.

He said an article in People magazine, which he believes was authorised by the Duchess, was “a total lie” that vilified him and portrayed him as a dishonest, exploitative and cold-hearted father.

The article, headlined The Truth About Meghan, was based on anonymous interviews with five of her friends and provided the first reference to the letter now the heart of a privacy battle.

Mr Markle's ensuing decision to publish extracts of the letter in the Mail on Sunday was his alone, he revealed, adding that he did not ask for or receive any money. He did not want the whole five-page missive published as “the letter as whole made Meg look terrible,” he said.

“It was a criticism of me," he claimed. "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 signalled the end of our relationship, not a reconciliation.”

The chasm between father and daughter was further exposed on Tuesday as the Duchess’s privacy case returned to the High Court for a summary judgment hearing, as her legal team sought to avoid the spectre of a trial.

But Associated Newspapers, owner of the Mail on Sunday, argued that the Duchess had made a string of inconsistent statements that could yet be found to be untruthful. It suggested that aspects of her case were riddled with confusion and that as such, her claims needed full investigation in court.

Thomas Markle - Television Stills
Thomas Markle - Television Stills

The Duchess, 39, argued that publication of the “quintessentially” private letter she sent to her father was a “tripled barrelled” invasion of her rights and that any argument to the contrary was “smoke and mirrors” and “utterly fanciful.”

She insisted that the letter was a “heartfelt plea from an anguished daughter,” published only for commercial gain.

The Duchess accused the Mail on Sunday of a “plain and serious" breach not only of her right to respect for her correspondence, but also her private and family life, by reproducing extracts of the letter in a “sensational" context.

She is suing Associated for breach of privacy and copyright relating to the publication of five articles, three in the MailOnline and two in the Mail on Sunday, in February 2019.

The newspaper group argued that the case was “wholly unsuitable” for summary judgment as there was uncertainty on several matters.

It described the Duchess’s account of the genesis of her letter as “confusing and tortuous,” suggesting that even she was not clear what took place and when or why.

“Were the court to find that she had made untruthful or misleading statements in the course of these proceedings, that matter is relevant to the question of liability and particularly the balancing of rights that the court must conduct,” it said.

The Duchess of Sussex -  Chris Jackson/PA Wire
The Duchess of Sussex - Chris Jackson/PA Wire

Antony White QC, for the newspaper group, argued: “There is a very real question as to whether the claimant will be able to establish that she had a reasonable – or any – expectation of privacy.”

He said the letter was written “with a view to it being disclosed publicly at some future point”.

Mr White also referred to the involvement of the Kensington Palace communications team, saying “no truly private letter from daughter to father” would require such input.

The Duchess’s lawyers argued there was “no real prospect” of the newspaper winning the case.

Justin Rushbrooke QC, for the Duchess, told the court that at its heart, the case was straightforward, simply exploring who had the right of control over the contents of a private letter.

“Is it the writer of the letter or the editor of the Mail on Sunday?” he asked.

“There can only be one answer to that question and the answer would be the same irrespective of whether or not the writer of the letter is a duchess or any other citizen.”

Mr Rushbrooke said the letter was not “a vicious or unwarranted attack” on Mr Markle but was rather “a message of peace”.

Her lawyers argued that the letter, sent in August 2018, was a desperate plea, begging her father to stop talking to the press.

“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,” they said.

“The act of writing a personal letter to a close family member, lover or friend inevitably puts the writer in an unguarded and potentially vulnerable position because the words chosen and the way in which the writer chooses to express him or herself are for the recipient and no one else.”

Previous case law highlighted by the Duchess’s legal team included a 2008 ruling in favour of the Prince of Wales and a 2017 ruling in favour of Paul Burrell, former butler to Diana, Princess of Wales.

The Prince successfully applied for a summary judgment when he sued the Mail on Sunday over the publication of a leaked journal in which he described the Chinese leadership as "appalling old waxworks".

Mr Burrell was awarded damages from Max Clifford, the late PR boss who had previously represented him, in 2016 after he passed on private information to the News of the World.

If the Duchess’s application fails, a full trial will go ahead in the autumn, with the Duchess likely to face her own father across the courtroom in a Markle vs Markle clash.

The Palace Four
Four royal aides who will be asked to give evidence were named yesterday for the first time.

The “Palace Four” are likely to have information that will support the Mail on Sunday’s case, Associated Newspapers said in court documents. They have their own lawyer and will be expected to provide witness statements.

Jason Knauf, who at the time was communications secretary to both the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, advised Meghan as she wrote the letter to her father.

Jason Knauf - Dominic Lipinski/PA
Jason Knauf - Dominic Lipinski/PA

The Duchess has admitted that Mr Knauf, a close confidante who is now chief executive of the Royal Foundation, "provided feedback" in the form of "general ideas".

Ted Verity, editor of the Mail on Sunday, said he had been told Mr Knauf worked on the drafts with the Duchess.

Samantha Cohen, former private secretary to the Sussexes and long-standing senior royal aide.

A former assistant private secretary to the Queen, she is said to have been planning to leave Buckingham Palace in 2018 but agreed to stay on to help guide the Duchess of Sussex through her first months in the Royal Family.

Samantha Cohen, pictured at the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's wedding - Mark Stewart
Samantha Cohen, pictured at the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's wedding - Mark Stewart

The popular Australian left the royal fold in 2019 after almost 18 years of service, to work for environmental charity Cool Earth, later becoming chief executive of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council.

Christian Jones, former deputy communications secretary to the Sussexes who is currently acting private secretary to the Cambridges.

Christian Jones, left, with Jason Knauf, right - Mark Stewart
Christian Jones, left, with Jason Knauf, right - Mark Stewart

The communications specialist who previously worked at the Treasury and on Brexit, is a popular member of the team, heading up the Cambridges’ press office when the two couples formed separate households.

Sara Latham, who at the time was the Sussexes’ director of communications and is now a senior Buckingham Palace advisor working on the Platinum Jubilee, is said to have helped “fact check” Finding Freedom, the favourable biography about the Sussexes.

Sara Latham
Sara Latham

Mr Verity said he had been told Ms Latham had assisted the book’s authors, Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, by making sure they got nothing wrong.

The editor also claimed that a third member of staff, “a woman called Keleigh” (Thomas Morgan) at Sunshine Sachs, had been responsible for “making calls to open doors” to the authors.

The staged photographs
The Duchess of Sussex pleaded with her father to come clean over his staged paparazzi photographs or risk compromising the privacy of her future children, it emerged in court.

Justin Rushbrooke QC revealed that in her letter, the Duchess referred to a previous conversation with her father in which she had told him they were “ready to go into bat” with a legal complaint to stop the story being published, if he told her it was untrue.

“He was told that if they tried to do that and it fails, because it is true, then that will risk the privacy of any children of theirs thereafter,” the barrister told the court.

“In other words, you only get one shot at this.”

He said the Duchess had made clear that they could not make a legal complaint if it was “factually misconceived.”

Mr Justice Warby told Mr Rushbrooke that he had referred to a section of the letter that was confidential.

The lawyer admitted he had made a mistake but said the line was not inherently sensitive, noting that it was too late to “put that cat back in the bag.”

The staged photographs of Mr Markle apparently preparing for his trip to Britain were published in April and May. The images showed him getting measured for a suit, reading up on British landmarks and reading an online story about his daughter in an internet cafe.

On May 12, just five days before her wedding, the Mail on Sunday revealed that the pictures had been staged, causing great embarrassment to the Sussexes.