Meghan wins another round in court in privacy dispute with tabloid publisher

Duke and Duchess of Sussex arriving at a gala event
Prince Harry and his wife, the former actress Meghan Markle, arrive at a gala event Nov. 10 in New York.
(Craig Ruttle / Associated Press)

A British court Thursday dismissed an appeal by a newspaper publisher seeking to overturn an earlier ruling that it breached the privacy of the Duchess of Sussex by publishing portions of a letter she wrote to her estranged father.

The Court of Appeal in London upheld a High Court ruling in February saying that the publisher of the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline website unlawfully breached the former actress Meghan Markle’s privacy by reproducing the handwritten letter she wrote her father, Thomas Markle, after she married Prince Harry in 2018.

Associated Newspapers challenged that decision at the Court of Appeal, which held a hearing last month. Dismissing the appeal, Judge Geoffrey Vos said in a brief hearing Thursday that “the duchess had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of the letter. Those contents were personal, private and not matters of legitimate public interest.”


In a statement, Meghan said the ruling was “a victory not just for me, but for anyone who has ever felt scared to stand up for what’s right.”

She added: “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.”

Associated Newspapers published about half of her letter in five articles in August 2018. Its lawyers disputed Meghan’s claim that she didn’t intend the letter to be seen by anyone but her father. They said correspondence between her and her then-communications secretary, Jason Knauf, showed that she suspected her father might leak the letter to journalists and wrote it with that in mind.

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The publisher also argued that publication of the letter was part of Thomas Markle’s right to reply following a People magazine interview with five of Meghan’s friends alleging that he was “cruelly cold-shouldering” his daughter in the run-up to her royal wedding.

But Vos said the article, which the Mail on Sunday described as “sensational,” was “splashed as a new public revelation,” rather than focusing on Thomas Markle’s response to negative media reports about him.

In its appeal, Associated Newspapers had also argued that Meghan made private information public by cooperating with Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, authors of “Finding Freedom,” a sympathetic book about her and Harry.


The duchess’ lawyers had previously denied that she or Harry collaborated with the authors. But Knauf said in evidence to the court that he gave the writers information, and discussed it with Harry and Meghan.

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Knauf’s evidence, which hadn’t previously been disclosed, was a dramatic twist in the long-running case.

In response, Meghan, 40, apologized for misleading the court about the extent of her cooperation with the book’s authors.

The duchess said she didn’t remember the discussions with Knauf when she gave evidence earlier in the case, “and I apologize to the court for the fact that I had not remembered these exchanges at the time.”

“I had absolutely no wish or intention to mislead the defendant or the court,” she said in a written statement.

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Meghan, a former star of the American TV legal drama “Suits,” married Prince Harry, a grandson of Queen Elizabeth II, at Windsor Castle in May 2018.


The couple announced in early 2020 that they were quitting royal duties and moving to North America, citing what they said were the unbearable intrusions and racist attitudes of the British media. They have settled in Southern California with their two young children.

In her statement Thursday, Meghan strongly condemned Associated Newspapers for treating the lawsuit as “a game with no rules.” She said she had been subject to “deception, intimidation and calculated attacks” in the three years since the lawsuit began.

“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,” she said.

Associated Newspapers had argued that the case should go to a trial. That would have been problematic for Britain’s monarchy, which has long avoided airing disputes in the public eye.

Lawyer Mark Stephens, who specializes in media law and is not connected to the case, said he believed the publisher would appeal. While it would be unusual for Britain’s Supreme Court to take such a case, Stephens said Associated Newspapers could take it to the European Court of Human Rights.

“There’s an issue of principle here, which is whether this case should be finished before a trial without disclosure, without testing the evidence,” Stephens said. Thursday’s ruling did not settle questions about whether the letter to Thomas Markle was “always intended for Meghan’s side to publish and to leak and to use as briefing material,” he added.

Associated Newspapers has “a right to this trial, and I think that that is just going to protract the pain for Meghan Markle,” Stephens said.