Meghan Markle's former palace aides willing to give evidence, court hears

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Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·6 min read
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Watch: Publication of Meghan’s letter ‘serious invasion’ of privacy, court told

Meghan Markle’s case about the letter she sent her father has “shifted” and requires “a careful and penetrative investigation” in a full trial, a court has heard.

The Duchess of Sussex, 39, is seeking damages after Associated Newspapers Ltd (ANL), the publishers of Mail On Sunday and the MailOnline published extracts of a letter she wrote to her father, Thomas Markle Snr, after her wedding to Prince Harry.

The duchess and her legal team are bidding for a summary judgment, meaning the case won’t go to a full trial, but be decided by a judge.

In court on Wednesday, lawyers for ANL said they believe the duchess’s case about her letter has “shifted” during the proceedings and there needs to be a full trial, mentioning several members of Kensington Palace staff, her father and five of her friends as potential witnesses.

Palace staff are willing to give evidence, according to a letter sent to court by lawyers from Addleshaw Goddard.

While Meghan has argued that the letter she sent her father was “wholly private”, ANL has claimed the involvement of staff from the palace, including Jason Knauf who is now at the Royal Foundation, should be looked at in a full trial.

It could mean Knauf, along with three others who worked with the Duchess of Sussex at the time, might have to take the witness stand.

Meghan previously admitted in court papers that while she did not co-operate directly with the authors of Finding Freedom, the unauthorised biography about her and Prince Harry, she did allow a friend who had already been approached by the writers, to give “the true position” to “prevent any further misrepresentation” about her relationship with her father.

LEICESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 28: (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 24 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME) Jason Knauf, Communications Secretary to The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, accompanies Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge on a visit to Leicester City Football Club's King Power Stadium to pay tribute to those people killed in the helicopter crash of October 27 on November 28, 2018 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)
Jason Knauf, former communications secretary to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, is said to have offered help with the letter from the duchess to her father. (Indigo/Getty Images)
BRADFORD, ENGLAND - JANUARY 15: Christian Jones, Communications Secretary to The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, accompanies Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge & Prince William, Duke of Cambridge during their visit of City Hall on January 15, 2020 in Bradford, United Kingdom. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)
Christian Jones, now communications secretary to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, could offer more evidence in court, palace lawyers have said. (Karwai Tang/WireImage)

A letter written by palace lawyers on behalf of Knauf as well as Samantha Cohen, Christian Jones, and Sara Latham, admitted that the staff members would be able to testify in court about whether they helped with the draft of Meghan’s letter and what she allowed a friend to tell the book authors.

They would also be able to give evidence about whether or not Meghan thought the letter would come into the public domain.

However they have made it clear they don’t want to be drawn in, or take sides, and are bound by confidentiality agreements.

Antony White, appearing for ANL, said the information passed between Meghan’s friend and authors Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, should be examined at trial.

He said: “That again cries out for investigation. What did the claimant tell this unidentified person could be communicated about the letter to counter what she describes as her father’s narrative in the media?

“That is another issue on which the Addleshaw letter confirms that further evidence will be available at trial which will shed light.”

Read more: Meghan Markle called for 'nothing other than peace' in letter to her father, court hears

Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Ian Mill QC (top left), Justin Rushbrooke QC (top right) and judge Mr Justice Warby (bottom), at the Royal Courts of Justice, London, during the Duchess of Sussex's High Court privacy action against Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) for the publication of a handwritten letter to her estranged father, Thomas Markle. Picture date: Tuesday January 19, 2021.
Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Ian Mill QC (top left), Justin Rushbrooke QC (top right) and judge Mr Justice Warby (bottom), at the Royal Courts of Justice, London. (PA)

ANL would also want to call five of Meghan’s friends to the witness stand, after they spoke to People magazine in February 2019 in an interview headlined ‘The Truth about Meghan’.

One of the friends mentioned the existence of the letter, which led Markle Snr to agree to speak to the Mail On Sunday, it’s been claimed. He said the letter had been misrepresented as had his reply.

ANL lawyers also dispute whether Meghan can claim the copyright for her letter if she was helped in some way by the staff at the palace, and want a full trial to establish how much was written by others.

Adrian Speck, a lawyer on ANL’s team, said: “Let’s assume the first draft is hers. We would need to know what form that draft was in, what changes he made when he sent it back.

“She may have a revised copyright which may be specific to a particular paragraph. [If] Mr Knauf sent another one back with further changes, you would need to know what has come in term of actual text from those two individuals.”

He suggested that needed to be known as it could turn out that the sections the Mail On Sunday published were not the sections Meghan had full copyright over.

Speck also argued that the Mail On Sunday had to publish sections of the letter rather than just a couple of sentences to “absolutely show” that the description of the letter in People magazine wasn’t accurate, as was Markle Snr’s claim.

Responding to the suggestion that the Mail On Sunday might not have taken a section with the duchess’s copyright, Mill said the idea was a “farce”.

And he said the final draft is the only one to still exist because it was made in the notes section of the duchess’s iPhone.

He also said any texts between Meghan and Knauf would have been destroyed after 30 days.

Meghan’s team opened the application on Tuesday, explaining that they don’t believe the ANL case can reasonably defend their decision to print the letter.

Meghan’s lawyers called the publication of the note a “triple-barrelled attack” on her privacy.

Her lawyer Justin Rushbrooke said the “contents and character of the letter were obviously private”, that they spoke of her “constant love” for her father and her financial support.

The team also rebutted the idea that the Meghan had cooperated with the authors of Finding Freedom, a biography about the couple which came out in summer 2020.

The two-day hearing has been held remotely, with all parties tuning in via videolink.

The hearing is expected to end on Wednesday but Mr Justice Warby, presiding, is likely to wait to share a verdict.

If Meghan loses, a full trial will begin in the autumn.

Markle Snr has already expressed his willingness to testify against his daughter in court.

Read more: Meghan Markle says reports of what Harry told her moments before their wedding are false

Meghan previously won a bid to keep the names of her friends who spoke to People magazine in February 2019 secret, but that might not stay the case if they are called to give statements or evidence.

And the duchess could end up in the witness box herself too.

In a witness statement given to the court, Markle Snr has said of the letter: “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 signalled the end of our relationship, not a reconciliation.”

Mr Justice Warby said he would endeavour to send his judgement as soon as possible as the hearing ended on Wednesday afternoon.

Watch: Thomas Markle believes Meghan wanted her letter to him published, court hears