Meghan Markle dealt devastating blow in Daily Mail court case

Meghan Markle’s own father has launched an extraordinary take-down of his own daughter leaving her completely exposed. Did she make a terrible mistake?

Of all the things that 2020 denied us, right down there near the bottom of the list along with a Bond premiere and Princess Beatrice getting a big slap-up wedding, was the chance to see what Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, would have worn to court.

In the past nine months, her lawsuit against the Daily Mail for allegedly breaching her privacy has been wending its way through the British legal system, with a number of hearings taking place in London via video conferencing.

Just imagine, for a brief, delicious moment the looks the 39-year-old could have rolled out, one impeccably cut suit after another, as she sashayed into court had the pandemic never happened, her every outfit a sublime masterclass in tailoring and sartorial savoir faire. It’s enough to make even the stoniest of Vogue editors’ hearts break at such a loss.

Instead, we have been left with nothing to distract us from the grim reality that has played out via video feed as the Duchess and her high-powered legal team have faced off against the Mail’s parent company, Associated Newspapers, in court.

They allege the Mail breached Meghan’s privacy and copyright when they published parts of a letter she had sent to her estranged father Thomas Markle and which he had supplied to the newspaper.

This week, the two sides are back in court (remotely of course) after Meghan’s team applied for a summary judgment in the case, a move which if granted (we should know later this week) would circumvent the need for a trial later this year. The revelations that have come out are emotional stuff.

In what The Telegraph termed a “damning” witness statement, Thomas told the court the letter his daughter sent him “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,” he said.

As far as coup de grace’s (and family clangers) go, that has to be up there.

The timeline of the events in question here goes like this:

On February 6, 2019, People magazine published a story with the cover line: ‘The Truth About Meghan’, quoting five anonymous friends, who according to the magazine “form an essential part of Meghan’s inner circle”. The story revealed the former actress had penned her father a letter after her wedding.

“She’s like, ‘Dad, I’m so heartbroken. I love you. I have one father. Please stop victimising me through the media so we can repair our relationship,’” one friend told People. Four days later, on February 10, an interview Thomas had given to The Mail on Sunday appeared with the headline, “Revealed: The letter showing true tragedy of Meghan’s rift with a father she says has ‘broken her heart into a million pieces’”. The story reproduced sections of her letter.

Later the same year, in October 2019, Meghan announced that she was taking legal action over the publication of her handwritten missive, suing for breach of copyright, infringement of her privacy, and breaches of the Data Protection Act.

In court overnight, Thomas, via his statement, said that of the People story, “It seemed to me that the article had either been expressly authorised 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.

“The sources for the article were said to be Meg’s ‘best friends’. It seemed to me 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.”

Thomas, a former Hollywood lighting director who lives in Mexico also said, “I did not want the whole of the letter to be published. “The reason for that was because I thought the letter as a whole made Meg look terrible.”

Meanwhile, her legal team argued that publication of the letter was “a triple-barrelled invasion of her privacy rights” and they alleged the Mail had committed a “plain and serious” breach.

While we won’t know until later this week whether Mr Justice Warby will grant the royal’s summary judgment request (thus averting the sort of three-ring legal circus that would have tabloid editors rubbing their hands with glee) this entire process has been a bruising experience. In her fight to draw a line in the sand with the media over her privacy, so far Meghan has been the biggest loser.

At stake here in this case is the moral high ground. In launching this case Meghan (and husband Harry, Duke of Sussex) seemed to want to set a precedent that they would vigorously defend their family’s privacy in the face of pervasive, persistent media interest. (Currently, they are pursuing six court cases against various press outlets in both the UK and the US.)

However, by throwing herself into this particular legal stoush, Meghan has also made herself the target of a combative courtroom opponent in the form of the Daily Mail who was always going to pull no punches. Potentially damaging revelations were always going to be dragged out in the open and mud was always going to be liberally thrown about the place. Whether her decision to go ahead with this legal action makes her extremely brave or a tad naive, I’m not sure.

There has been a sour inevitability to seeing Meghan and her father’s deeply fractured relationship being exposed to the world in all its misery and sadness, their estrangement and hurt now the stuff of legal record.

In the scheme of things, this lengthy case’s potential damage to Thomas’ reputation is small fry. The same cannot be said for Meghan. Thomas’ statement paints Meghan not only as not caring about him but that she has not been plain dealing.

In a written submission, the Mail’s barrister Antony White said the Duchess had written the letter “with a view to it being disclosed publicly at some future point” and that “she must, at the very least, have appreciated that her father might choose to disclose it”.

(Last year, the court was told that Jason Knauf, who was Communications Secretary to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, “and/or others in the Kensington Palace communications team contributed to the writing of the letter”.) Overnight, White said, “No truly private letter from daughter to father would require any input from the Kensington Palace communications team.”

The very imputation that Meghan might have written the 1200-word outpouring with a view to it entering the public domain stands in contrast to her image as a woman deeply committed to authenticity and positivity. No matter who wins, the Duchess could pay a steep price in terms of reputational damage as this case plays out.

For Meghan to put herself so personally on the line in a bid to try and win a matter of principle is audacious stuff.

This courtroom manoeuvre could establish a powerful precedent and offer the Sussexes some protection from the nosier elements of Fleet Street in the future – or it could see the royal suffer through having her character roughed up by high priced barristers to only see the Mail emerge smugly victorious.

(Added to which, this case was always going to involve an airing of dirty family laundry in public, a far from edifying turn of events unlikely to thrill Buckingham Palace as the attempt to maintain a tight-lipped ‘business as usual’ posture during the pandemic.)

This latest development is sure to, totally rightly, generate much sympathy for Meghan, the idea of a parent putting their child through the ringer simply being beyond the comprehensible for most people. But on balance, she still has far more to lose here than her father and his ever-ready litany of grievances.

The case is continuing in London but if there is one thing this legal face-off has established beyond reasonable doubt is that Meghan is a woman who possesses remarkable bravery and fortitude, even in the face of intimidating opposition.