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Meghan Markle wins privacy battle over letter to estranged father

The court has dismissed the Mail on Sunday's appeal

meghan markle court case
Danielle Stacey
Online Royal CorrespondentLondon
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The publisher of The Mail On Sunday has lost a Court of Appeal challenge against a ruling in favour of the Duchess of Sussex over publication of a personal letter to her estranged father, Thomas Markle.

Judges gave their ruling on Thursday on the publisher of The Mail on Sunday's appeal to overturn Meghan's victory in their privacy battle over a letter to her estranged father. 

The Duchess, 40, sued Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), also the publisher of MailOnline, over five articles that reproduced parts of a "personal and private" letter to Thomas Markle, 77, in August 2018.

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In a powerful statement Meghan said: "This is a victory not just for me, but for anyone who has ever felt scared to stand up for what's right. While this win is precedent setting, what matters most is that we are now collectively brave enough to reshape a tabloid industry that conditions people to be cruel, and profits from the lies and pain that they create.  

"From day one, I have treated this lawsuit as an important measure of right versus wrong. The defendant has treated it as a game with no rules. The longer they dragged it out, the more they could twist facts and manipulate the public (even during the appeal itself), making a  straightforward case extraordinarily convoluted in order to generate more headlines and sell  more newspapers - a model that rewards chaos above truth. In the nearly three years since  this began, I have been patient in the face of deception, intimidation, and calculated attacks.  

"Today, the courts ruled in my favor - again - cementing that The Mail on Sunday, owned by Lord Jonathan Rothermere, has broken the law. The courts have held the defendant to  account, and my hope is that we all begin to do the same. Because as far removed as it may seem from your personal life, it's not. Tomorrow it could be you. These harmful practices don't happen once in a blue moon - they are a daily fail that divide us, and we all deserve  better."

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The Duchess released a powerful statement following the decision

In a ruling on Thursday, Sir Geoffrey Vos, Dame Victoria Sharp and Lord Justice Bean dismissed the appeal by Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL).

Reading a summary of their decision, Sir Geoffrey said: "It was hard to see what evidence could have been adduced at trial that would have altered the situation.

"The judge had been in as good a position as any trial judge to look at the article in People magazine, the letter and The Mail On Sunday articles to decide if publication of the contents of the letter was appropriate to rebut the allegations against Mr Markle.

"The judge had correctly decided that, whilst it might have been proportionate to publish a very small part of the letter for that purpose, it was not necessary to publish half the contents of the letter as ANL had done."

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A spokesman for Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) said in a statement that the publisher is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court. It read: "We are very disappointed by the decision of the Court of Appeal. It is our strong view that judgment should be given only on the basis of evidence tested at trial, and not on a summary basis in a heavily contested case, before even disclosure of documents.

"No evidence has been tested in cross-examination, as it should be, especially when Mr Knauf's evidence raises issues as to the Duchess' credibility. After People magazine published an attack on Mr Markle, based on false briefings from the Duchess' friends wrongly describing the letter as a loving letter, it was important to show that the letter was no such thing.

"Both the letter and People magazine also seriously misrepresented the reasons for Mr Markle’s non-attendance at the royal wedding. The articles corrected these matters and raised other issues of public interest including the reasons for the breakdown in the relationship between the duchess and her father. We are considering an appeal to the Supreme Court in the United Kingdom."

meghan markle 2019© Photo: Getty Images

The Duchess launched legal action against the Mail on Sunday in 2019

The judge ruled in February that the publication of Meghan's letter to her father was "manifestly excessive and hence unlawful" and in May, the Duchess was granted a summary judgment in relation to the remaining parts of her copyright claim, after lawyers acting on behalf of the Queen said it does not belong to the Crown.

ANL later brought an appeal against a High Court judge's decision to grant Meghan summary judgment – meaning she won her case without a trial.

At the three-day hearing earlier this month, ANL argued the case should go to a trial after Jason Knauf, former communications secretary to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, claimed in a witness statement that Meghan wrote the letter with the understanding that it could be leaked.

He said that she had sent him 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."

Meghan's barristers argued that the letter was "deeply personal" and "self-evidently was intended to be kept private".

In her written evidence, the Duchess denied she thought it likely that her father would leak the letter, but "merely recognised that this was a possibility".

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