Meghan said calling father ‘daddy’ would ‘pull at heartstrings’, court hears

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The Duchess of Sussex speculated that referring to her estranged father as “daddy” in a letter to him would “pull at the heartstrings” in the “unfortunate event” that it was leaked, the Court of Appeal has heard.

Meghan, 40, sued Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), which is the publisher of The Mail On Sunday and MailOnline, over five articles that reproduced parts of a “personal and private” letter to Thomas Markle, 77, in August 2018.

Meghan won her case earlier this year after Lord Justice Warby ruled that ANL’s publication of Meghan’s letter to her father was unlawful in a summary judgment, avoiding the need for a trial.

ANL is challenging the ruling in a three-day hearing at the Court of Appeal, arguing the case should go to a trial on Meghan’s claims including breach of privacy and copyright.

On Wednesday afternoon, Justin Rushbrooke QC, for Meghan, described the case as “very straightforward” and said her human rights were “triply engaged” by the publication of part of the letter.

Duke and Duchess of Sussex visit to Canada House
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex leaving after their visit to Canada House, central London (Yui Mok/PA)

He said: “This was a letter of which extensive contents, about half of it, were first published by the defendant without the consent of the complainant, or even notification.”

The court heard 585 out of 1,250 words had been republished in the five articles, in “a plain and serious misuse of her private information”, Meghan’s barristers said.

In her written evidence to the Court of Appeal, Meghan denied she thought it likely that her father would leak the letter, but “merely recognised that this was a possibility”.

She said: “While we had to recognise that anything was possible in the extraordinary circumstances in which we were living and therefore the need to mitigate against the risks of disclosure of the letter’s contents, I did not think that my father would sell or leak the letter, primarily because it would not put him in a good light.”

She later added: “I had not heard from him since the week leading up to our wedding, but it seemed incredibly unlikely that he would disclose the contents because they contained unpalatable truths and would thereby negate the falsehoods the media had attributed to him.

“The main purpose of the letter was to encourage my father to stop talking to the press.

“To be clear, I did not want any of it to be published, and wanted to ensure that the risk of it being manipulated or misleadingly edited was minimised, were it to be exploited,” she continued.

Jason Knauf, who was communications secretary to Meghan and Harry until March 2019, told the court that the duchess had asked him a question about calling her estranged father “daddy”, as she always had done previously, in the letter.

He said: “She also asked a specific question regarding addressing Mr Markle as ‘daddy’ in the letter, saying ‘given I’ve only ever called him daddy it may make sense to open as such (despite him being less than paternal), and in the unfortunate event that it leaked it would pull at the heartstrings’.”

Mr Knauf later said the duchess had indicated to him in August of the previous year that she recognised it was possible that her father, Mr Markle, would make the letter public.

In his statement obtained after an application by the PA news agency, Mr Knauf said the duchess had “lost confidence that the privacy of her communication with her father would be respected by him” as a result of his “increasing co-operation with reporters and photographers”.

He said that, in a series of text messages sent to him by Meghan, she had written that the “catalyst” for writing the letter to Mr Markle was “seeing how much pain this is causing”.

Commonwealth Day 2020
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex arrive at the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey, London on Commonwealth Day, their final official engagement before they quit royal life (Yui Mok/PA)

He said the texts included an early draft of the letter and that Meghan had written: “Obviously everything I have drafted is with the understanding that it could be leaked so I have been meticulous in my word choice, but please do let me know if anything stands out for you as a liability.”

He added: “On the specific issue of the letter, the duchess indicated in messages to me that she recognised that it was possible that Mr Markle would make the letter public.”

Megan’s barristers argued that the letter was “deeply personal” and “self-evidently was intended to be kept private”.

Mr Rushbrooke said: “To permit the defence to go to trial would have only facilitated further invasions of the claimant’s privacy, all flowing from its publication of a private and deeply personal letter, whilst giving the defendant the opportunity to profit handsomely from the media circus that would inevitably result.”

It had previously been reported that Mr Markle said he hoped the letter from his daughter at the centre of the legal row would be “an olive branch”.

But Mr Rushbrooke said: “I don’t say that the defendant should have confined itself to giving Mr Markle the microphone, so to speak, to correct this false characterisation of the ‘olive branch’.

“They could have deployed some of the text of the letter.”

The publisher’s appeal, heard by Sir Geoffrey Vos, Dame Victoria Sharp and Lord Justice Bean, is due to finish on Thursday with the judges expected to give their ruling at a later date.

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