Meghan Markle's father was manipulated by journalists, duchess's lawyer claims in court battle

Meghan Markle is believed to have dialled into the High Court from her home in Los Angeles, as her lawyer argued her father was harassed and manipulated by reporters at the Mail On Sunday and the MailOnline.

The Duchess of Sussex is suing Associated Newspapers Ltd [ANL], the publishers of the Mail On Sunday and the MailOnline, over its publication of excerpts of a letter she wrote to her father in 2019.

She is seeking damages for alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act.

She was reported to be planning to listen in from the home she is renting in California with her husband, Prince Harry and their son Archie, as the hearing began over videolink on Friday.

The hearing was moved online because of the coronavirus pandemic, and would have begun at 2am LA time. Her representative, David Sherborne, began just after 12pm BST, 4am in California.

Britain's Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, arrives at the Youth Employment Services (YES) Hub as she visits Tembisa township, near Johannesburg, South Africa, October 2, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Meghan's case against the papers has got its first day in court. (Reuters)

Sections of a letter Meghan, 38, wrote to her father Thomas Markle were published in the Mail On Sunday and online in February last year, under 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’.”

Read more: The 360: Were Harry and Meghan right to ban Britain's tabloids?

Mr Markle spoke to the paper after an article appeared in People magazine, which was said to be from an interview with five of Meghan’s friends, and referenced a letter she wrote to him.

He said the article misrepresented the contents of the letter. According to her team, she denies any knowledge of the People magazine article before it was published.

Meghan Markle in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle for her wedding to Prince Harry in Windsor, Britain, May 19, 2018. Jonathan Brady/Pool via REUTERS
The letter was written to Meghan's father after her wedding. (Reuters)

But Meghan’s team says it was the Mail On Sunday who deliberately chose to leave some sections of the letter out of its report, to mislead the public and caused the dispute between the duchess and her father to begin with.

The duchess says her father, Mr Markle, was harassed and manipulated the publisher and that she sought for him to be left alone.

Associated Newspapers denies all the allegations.

ANL’s lawyers will argue Meghan’s neat handwriting and the “multiple self-congratulatory remarks” she made in the letter to her father indicated she knew or intended it to be read by a third party.

Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Mr Justice Warby (bottom left) Antony White QC, for Associated Newspapers (bottom right) and David Sherborne the lawyer representing the Duchess of Sussex, during a virtual High Court hearing in the first stage of Meghan's legal action against a British newspaper over its publication of a "private and confidential" letter to her estranged father.
Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Mr Justice Warby (bottom left) Antony White QC, for Associated Newspapers (bottom right) and David Sherborne the lawyer representing the Duchess of Sussex, during a virtual High Court. (Press Association)

Read more: Why is Meghan Markle suing the Mail on Sunday?

At a preliminary hearing on Friday, lawyers for Associated Newspapers asked the court to strike out parts of Meghan’s case ahead of a full trial of the issues.

The publisher’s legal team argued that allegations of “dishonesty and malicious intent” made against it by the duchess should not form part of her case.

Making the case for ANL, Antony White said the details of nine additional articles given by the duchess’s legal team of other times she claims lies were written about her were irrelevant.

The duchess’s legal papers also referenced a number of tabloid articles which she said contained lies, including one about her buying a copper bathtub for Frogmore Cottage.

White said it was “patently unsustainable” for the duchess to rely on examples of articles which she says are evidence there was a campaign against her.

Britain's Prince Harry and wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex walk during a visit at the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia October 16, 2018. REUTERS/Phil Noble     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Prince Harry is supporting the action taken by Meghan. (Reuters)

Sherborne said the articles they have given as examples show that there has been distress caused to Meghan, and that they were “intrusive and offensive”.

The articles which Meghan’s team say caused distress and portray “an agenda” against the duchess, include one headlined “Harry’s girls is (almost) straight outta Compton” and another which linked avocados as her favourite snack to “human rights abuses, drought and murder”.

Read more: 'Lies and bulls***': Meghan Markle's father says 85% of MailOnline article is made up, according to court documents

In the hearing, White also said it was “objectionable” to suggest it was the publisher who caused the dispute between Meghan and her 75-year-old father.

Meghan’s legal team is using a case involving her father-in-law to help their argument. Prince Charles took his own legal action against ANL when his private diaries were published.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28:  David Sherborne, a lawyer representing several celebrities who have given evidence to The Leveson Inquiry, arrives at The Royal Courts of Justice on November 28, 2011 in London, England. The inquiry is being lead by Lord Justice Leveson and is looking into the culture, practice and ethics of the press in the United Kingdom. The inquiry, which will take evidence from interested parties and may take a year or more to complete, comes in the wake of the phone hacking scandal that saw the closure of The News of The World newspaper.  (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
David Sherborne is representing the Duchess of Sussex. (Getty Images)

At the time, 2005, the Mail On Sunday said it was in the public interest. The High Court disagreed and awarded damages to the Prince of Wales.

ANL has argued this time as well that the reasons for the rift between the duchess and her father are a matter of public interest, something the duchess and her lawyers say is not true.

Sherborne said there is a distinction between public interest and the public being interested in something.

Meghan has shown how much of her letter was left out in a representation which blurs out the sections which were used and fully blacks out the sections which were missed out. Her lawyers says this proves the Mail On Sunday and the MailOnline did not use all the letter, and say they claimed they did.

Sherborne said this was also proof she wanted the letter to be kept private and not divulged to the media.

As the court returned on Friday afternoon, Sherborne turned his attention to questions between his team and ANL’s about who had been dishonest. ANL says the duchess has not been specific enough about why the articles were dishonest.

Sherborne said he could not necessarily single out the article’s author, Caroline Graham, without knowing if there was someone else who contributed to an editorial decision.

FILE PHOTO: Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, is seen during a visit to the Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey in London, Britain, November 7, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo
Meghan says publishing the letter is not in the public interest. (Reuters)

He said the newspaper was dishonest and misleading because it stated the whole letter was printed, but it was not.

White said the article claimed the Mail On Sunday had seen the full letter and then printed extracts from it.

Responding, White said Graham may not have been the one to decide which sections of the letter were used, and suggested the issues would have been around space and layout of the article.

He also said a letter used by Meghan’s lawyers, in which Mr Markle said “85%” of the article was “lies and bulls***” was irrelevant, claiming the journalist mentioned, Peter Sheridan, is not the author of any of the articles.

The hearing was before Mr Justice Warby of the Queen’s bench division, who will make a decision on the ANL application.

He said he hoped to make one within the week. There is no date for a trial set.