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U.K. tabloid loses appeal in privacy case over Meghan's letter to her father

In a statement, the Duchess of Sussex said Thursday’s judgment was not just a personal victory, but also a win “for anyone who has ever felt scared to stand up for what’s right.”
Image: Prince Harry And Meghan Markle Visit Edinburgh
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stepped back from their roles as senior royals in 2020 and now live in California. Andrew Milligan / Pool via Getty Images

LONDON — A British media company lost its appeal Thursday against a judge’s ruling that it invaded the privacy of Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, by publishing parts of a letter she wrote to her estranged father, Thomas Markle.

The Court of Appeal in London dismissed the effort by Associated Newspapers to overturn the ruling issued in February by the High Court, which found in Meghan’s favor.

The court threw out the appeal, with senior judge Geoffrey Vos telling a brief hearing that the contents of the letter “were personal, private and not matters of legitimate public interest."

In a statement, Meghan, 40, said Thursday's judgment was not just a personal victory, but also a win "for anyone who has ever felt scared to stand up for what's right."

"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," she said.

A spokesperson for Associated Newspapers said the publisher was "very disappointed" by the decision and was considering an appeal to the Supreme Court.

"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," the spokesperson said in a statement.

Meghan and Prince Harry, Queen Elizabeth II’s grandson, first announced a privacy suit against Associated Newspapers in October 2019, before they left their roles as senior royals. They sued the newspaper publisher for breach of privacy and copyright over a series of articles in February 2019 that reproduced parts of the handwritten letter Meghan sent to her father in the wake of the couple's May 2018 wedding.

Speculation about Thomas Markle's attendance dominated the build-up to the star-studded ceremony at Windsor Castle. He was expected to walk his daughter down the aisle, although he eventually missed the event due to ill-health and Prince Charles took on the role.

In February, Judge Mark Warby concluded that Meghan “had a reasonable expectation that the contents of the letter would remain private,” and the articles had “interfered with that reasonable expectation.”

He ordered Associated Newspapers — the publisher of the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline — to make an interim payment of 450,000 pounds ($625,000) toward Meghan’s legal costs, and said further “financial remedies” would be dealt with later.

Issues relating to copyright of the letter would need to be settled at a trial, he said.

Image: Meghan Markle s father reacts to evidence in her UK legal case
Thomas Markle often appears on British television to discuss his relationship with his daughter. GB News / via Zuma Press

Despite her victory, the appeal case did not go entirely smoothly for the duchess. Last month, she apologized for misleading the court about her cooperation with Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, the authors of a book about her and Harry.

The newspaper group argued that Meghan wrote the letter to her father knowing it might be published. They said she made private information public by cooperating with the “Finding Freedom” authors.

Although Meghan’s lawyers had denied that the couple worked with the authors, their former communications secretary, Jason Knauf, said that he gave the authors information and discussed it with Harry and Meghan.

“I had absolutely no wish or intention to mislead the defendant or the court,” Meghan said in a witness statement made public last month.

Knauf also said in his witness statement that Meghan “asked me to review the text of the letter, saying ‘obviously everything I have drafted is with the understanding that it could be leaked.’”

Knauf said Meghan asked whether she should address her father in the letter as “Daddy,” adding that “in the unfortunate event that it leaked, it would pull at the heartstrings.”

In its statement Thursday, the spokesperson for Associated Newspapers said that "No evidence has been tested in cross-examination, as it should be, especially when Mr Knauf's evidence raises issues as to the Duchess's credibility."

The publisher had argued that the publication of the letter was part of Thomas Markle’s right to reply following misleading media reports that alleged he was “cruelly cold-shouldering” his daughter in the run-up to her royal wedding.

But the Court of Appeal found that the Mail on Sunday articles were “splashed as a new public revelation,” rather than focusing on Thomas Markle’s response to the attack on him.

When they first filed the suit, Harry put out an angry statement against the British tabloids for what he called a “ruthless campaign” against his wife.

“I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditized to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person,” he said. “I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.”

Both Harry and his brother, Prince William, have railed against the media for what they deem unethical practices and particularly for the treatment of their mother, Princess Diana. In May, the brothers pressed for higher journalistic standards after a BBC investigation found that journalist Martin Bashir had used “deceitful behavior” to secure a landmark interview with Diana in 1995.

Harry and Meghan shocked the world when they announced last year that they were stepping back from their roles as senior royals, and then moved to California. In an explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey in March that escalated their ongoing royal feud, the Duchess of Sussex said she had been the victim of “character assassination” and that the pressure of being under the microscope had driven her to the point of self-harm.