Meghan ‘more worried about unflattering effect of article than data protection’

By Tony Jones, PA Court Correspondent

The Duchess of Sussex has been accused of being more worried about the “unflattering” effect of the publication of letter extracts written to her estranged father than any breach of her data protection rights.

The claim is made in a legal document submitted to the High Court by the publisher of the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline, responding to Meghan’s legal action over an article featuring parts of a handwritten letter to Thomas Markle.

Papers from the duchess’s solicitors have previously said the “true sentiment” of the letter was Meghan’s concern about her father’s welfare and his exploitation by tabloid newspapers which he should stop talking to.

But Associated Newspapers’ legal team said in its document published this week: “If the Claimant had been or was concerned about her father and his welfare, she would not have cut her father, a sick 75-year-old man, out of her life for the perceived sin of speaking to the press about his daughter who had become a famous royal duchess.”

Meghan “caused or permitted”, the legal paper claims, her close friend Jessica Mulroney to contact the duchess’s former commercial adviser who gave an interview to the Mail on Sunday, in a bid to ensure “a more favourable article was published”.

Ms Mulroney, a Canadian stylist and TV star, wrote to Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne “putting pressure on her to withdraw or change statements”, claims the legal team for the publisher.

Mr Markle is the main witness for Associated Newspapers and if the case reaches a full court hearing, both Meghan and her father could be called to testify against one another, with the paper’s sister publication the Daily Mail reporting that the retired lighting director would be prepared to face her in court.

The duchess, known as the claimant in legal documents, is seeking damages from Associated Newspapers for alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act.

The publisher’s document alleges: “The claimant’s real claim in this action is transparently not that the defendant has processed her personal data without consent, which all media publishers do on a regular basis, but that she does not like the effect of what the defendant has published because she considers it to be unflattering.”

The papers shed light on the relationship between Meghan and her father, with Mr Markle claiming he contributed tens of thousands to her education, paying private school fees, university tuition costs and her student loan even after her career as an actress took off.

Mr Markle claimed the duchess sent him only occasional “modest” financial gifts after landing a role in the hit TV series Suits, even though he was still paying off her college debts.

The publication of the document comes during a major crisis that has engulfed the royal family around the future roles of the Sussexes.

The Queen, the Duke of Sussex, the Duke of Cambridge and the Prince of Wales attended the talks (PA)

The Queen has agreed for them to begin a transition period of living in Canada and the UK as they step back as frontline royals and become financially independent.

Meghan, who flew back to Canada before senior royals met at Sandringham to discuss the Sussexes’ future, has been photographed in the province of British Columbia visiting the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre in Vancouver.

She discussed “issues affecting women in the community”, according to a photograph posted on Facebook by the shelter.

Sections of Meghan’s letter, which was sent to Mr Markle in August 2018, were published in February last year in the Mail on Sunday and on MailOnline.

The headline on the article read: “Revealed: The letter showing true tragedy of Meghan’s rift with a father she says has ‘broken her heart into a million pieces’.”

In one extract, the duchess wrote: “Your actions have broken my heart into a million pieces – not simply because you have manufactured such unnecessary and unwarranted pain, but by making the choice to not tell the truth as you are puppeteered in this. Something I will never understand.”

Meghan is described in her court papers as “a well-known American actor, business entrepreneur, and women’s rights activist”.

Her lawyers claim that, had the letter been published in full, it would have “undermined the defendant’s intended negative characterisation” of her.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle leave St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle after their wedding (Jane Barlow/PA)

Anonymous friends of the duchess spoke out against the bullying the royal said she has faced in an article published in February last year by the US People magazine.

The report highlighted Meghan’s letter, with a confidant telling the American publication about its content: “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’.”

The relationship between Meghan and her father broke down completely in the week of her wedding in May 2018, a few months before the letter – thought to be the last communication between the pair – was sent.

A few days before the Sussexes wed, the retired lighting director was embroiled in controversy after allegedly being caught staging photographs with the paparazzi.

He reportedly pulled out of attending the ceremony to avoid embarrassing his daughter, but after a change of heart could not fly to the UK to walk his daughter down the aisle after undergoing heart surgery.

The defence papers for Associated Newspapers claim the People article was sanctioned by the duchess and its effect “was to suggest that Mr Markle has made false claims about his dealings with his daughter and that he was entirely at fault in not attending the royal wedding and for the estrangement between himself and the claimant”.

The legal document claimed, as far as it was aware, Meghan had not complained about the US report for containing private information published without her consent or for being inaccurate.