Meghan Markle's legal battle with the British press suffered a body blow today after large parts of her case against the Mail on Sunday were dismissed as 'irrelevant' by a High Court judge including her claims of a malicious media 'agenda' against her.
Mr Justice Warby has also 'struck out' her allegations that journalists had acted dishonestly and had caused the rift between her and her estranged father Thomas by ‘digging up dirt’ to portray Meghan in a 'negative light'.
The Duchess of Sussex, 38, is suing Associated Newspapers over an article which reproduced parts of a handwritten note she sent to Mr Markle, 75, in August 2018, three months after he was unable to walk her down the aisle following a heart attack.
The former Suits actress claims her father's decision to make the letter public in February 2019 – days after he was 'vilified' by five of her closest friends in a US magazine - had breached her privacy, copyright and data protection rights in a case now dubbed 'Markle vs Markle'.
Her London legal team, led by celebrity barrister David Sherborne, also accused journalists of 'dishonesty', stirring up conflict between Meghan and her father, and maliciously pursuing an agenda to portray her in a false and damaging light.
Associated Newspapers [AN], publisher of the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline, made an application to have these three parts of her claim thrown out in an online hearing watched by the Sussexes from Los Angeles last Friday.
Today Mr Justice Warby ruled entirely in the publisher’s favour and threw out the claims as 'irrelevant’ saying: 'I do not consider the allegations in question go to the heart of the case'.
He said in his judgment, published at Midday: 'I have struck out all the passages attacked in the application notice. Some of the allegations are struck out as irrelevant to the purpose for which they are pleaded. Some are struck out on the further or alternative ground that they are inadequately detailed. I have also acted so as to confine the case to what is reasonably necessary and proportionate for the purpose of doing justice between these parties’.
Associated Newspapers will also ask the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to pay their costs of in excess of £50,000 after the couple refused their offer to deal with the issue out of court to save the High Court having to set up an online hearing during the coronavirus crisis. Meghan's costs are said to have been £60,000-plus.
Meghan Markle has launched a legal action against the British press after her father Thomas (pictured together) shared a letter she sent him after the royal wedding. Today parts of her case including claims of dishonesty by journalists were dismissed by a senior judge as either 'irrelevant' or 'inadequately detailed'
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, pictured leaving the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey, London on Commonwealth Day on March 9 this year, are understood to have watched some of the High Court proceedings from LA (right wearing masks on April 17)
The case was heard online last Friday by judge Mr Justice Warby (bottom left), with Ms Markle represented by celebrity barrister David Sherborne and Associated Newspapers represented by Antony White QC. The judge ruled against Meghan today, 'striking out' three key areas of her claim
Some of Britain’s top media lawyers had warned before last week's hearing that Meghan's case had been 'overblown' and would be cut back.
Today's ruling is a stepping stone to a full trial in late 2020 or early 2021 where Meghan Markle and Thomas Markle would come face-to-face for the first time in more than two years – with father and daughter giving evidence against each other.
Five of Meghan's best friends could be called to give evidence in court. The 'inner circle' could be asked on oath if they colluded with the Duchess of Sussex to reveal that she had sent a letter to her father, Thomas.
Mr Markle says he shared the letter with The Mail on Sunday only after Meghan's friends gave an interview about it to the US magazine People, and did so to show the world it was not the tender message her friends had suggested, the newspaper has said in its defence.
In the bombshell February 2019 interview with the anonymous five women, one of them disclosed the existence of the letter but the duchess claims she was 'distressed' about this when she found out, according to a legal statement of her case lodged by her lawyers.
Meghan initially declined to comment on the newspaper's claim that she had 'knowingly' allowed her friends to leak details of the letter, effectively breaching her own privacy.
But last week she raised the stakes with an emphatic denial. Her lawyer David Sherborne wrote in the document filed to the court: '[She] did not know that her friends were giving an interview to People magazine, let alone that one of them would refer to the letter.'
If the case proceeds to trial, it is possible the five friends could be asked to testify on oath about Meghan's claims. They have never been named, with People magazine referring to them as 'Meghan's inner circle – a longtime friend, a former co-star, a friend from LA, a onetime colleague and a close confidante'.
Mr Justice Warby's judgment means any trial will now focus on whether Meghan had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of the letter to her father, in view of her friends already briefing People magazine about its contents. And whether publishing parts of the letter was in the public interest and allowed under freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Meghan's barrister David Sherborne told last Friday's hearing Meghan would give evidence during any future trial about her claims of poor treatment by the British press. He said: 'The defendant [Associated Newspapers] wants to cross-examine her [Meghan] as to whether that belief is reasonable or not - and they can do that'. These claims will now not be heard in any future trial.
The High Court case has been dubbed 'Markle vs Markle' in which the duchess's estranged father Thomas, 75, is prepared to give evidence against his own daughter in a box office trial where a judge would decide who is telling the truth about their rift and the letter Meghan sent to him in August 2018.
Last week court papers lodged by Meghan’s lawyers branded her father a liar and denied she knew her influential friends planned to reveal details of her deteriorating relationship with him - and her handwritten letter to him - with People magazine in America.
Thomas Markle has said he instead wanted to share the letter with the press after its contents were misrepresented and he was 'vilified' in the People article, telling the Mail on Sunday: 'I have to defend myself. I only released parts of the letter because other parts were so painful. The letter didn't seem loving to me. I found it hurtful.'
Meghan would also be asked under oath whether she knowingly' allowed her friends to leak details of the letter to People magazine to attack her father. These five unnamed best friends could also be forced to testify at the High Court in London.
She also alleged her estranged father Thomas was 'harassed and exploited' by the press despite not speaking to him for two years or asking if he agrees with her claims. This has also been struck out by Judge Warby.
Antony White QC, for Associated Newspapers, told judge Mr Justice Warby in last Friday’s hearing it was 'curious' that the Mail on Sunday is accused of manipulating Mr Markle when his daughter hasn't spoken to him since she married Prince Harry.
He said: 'The claimant [Meghan] has seen fit to put these allegations on the record without having spoken to Mr Markle, verifying these allegations with him or obtaining his consent', adding Ms Markle admits that she has had no contact with him since the wedding.
He added: 'It is therefore highly unlikely that she has any credible basis for these allegations of impropriety towards him'.
Celebrity barrister David Sherborne (pictured left) is representing Meghan in the High Court hearing last week but the judge Mr Justice Warby (right) did not find in his favour
Thomas Markle with a baby Meghan Markle. A picture shown in the Channel 5 documentary called Thomas Markle: My Story, that aired earlier this year
Thomas Markle showing souvenirs he keeps on mantlepiece of Harry and Meghan from the wedding he was unable to attend. Father and daughter have not spoken since
Allegations by the Duchess of Sussex that Mail on Sunday articles were responsible for 'causing' the dispute between her and her estranged father are also 'objectionable', Mr White told the High Court. These allegations were also struck out today.
May 13, 2018
One week before the wedding, it is revealed that Mr Markle staged 'paparazzi'-style photographs.
May 15 2018
Mr Markle writes to his daughter stating he is sorry for the furore over the posed photographs, offers to make a public apology to both her and Prince Harry, and says he will not go to the wedding as he wants to spare her from any further embarrassment. Later that day, Mr Markle suffers chest pains and goes into hospital with suspected congestive heart failure.
Three messages sent by Harry:
'Tom, it's Harry and I'm going to call you right now. Please pick up, thank you'
'Tom, Harry again! Really need to speak to u. U do not need to apologize, we understand the circumstances but 'going public' will only make the situation worse. If u love Meg and want to make it right please call me as there are two other options which don't involve u having to speak to the media, who incidentally created this whole situation. So please call me so I can explain. Meg and I are not angry, we just need to speak to u. Thanks'
'Oh any speaking to the press WILL backfire, trust me Tom. Only we can help u, as we have been trying from day 1'.
Later on May 15 2018
Mr Markle taken into critical care in hospital diagnosed with suspected congestive heart failure.
Mr Markle texted his daughter to say he was 'back in the hospital'.
Meghan's legal document claims she 'first learned' of her father's heart attack hospitalisation from his statement to the American gossip website TMZ.
Her text message response: 'I've been reaching out to you all weekend but you're not taking any of our calls or replying to any texts… Very concerned about your health and safety and have taken every measure to protect you but not sure what more we can do if you don't respond…Do you need help? Can we send the security team down again? I'm very sorry to hear you're in the hospital but need you to please get in touch with us… What hospital are you at?'.
Ten minutes later, she wrote: 'Harry and I made a decision earlier today and are dispatching the same security guys you turned away this weekend to be a presence on the ground to make sure you're safe… they will be there at your disposal as soon as you need them. Please please call as soon as you can.. all of this is incredibly concerning but your health is most important'.
Using Meghan's phone, Harry then sent a further message 'to provide Mr Markle with the details of the security team'. Harry 'pleaded with Mr Markle to let them help him'.
May 16 2018
Mr Markle undergoes emergency heart surgery and apologises to his daughter that he will not be attending wedding, but receives a reply from Prince Harry 'admonishing Mr Markle for talking to the press and telling him to stop and accusing Mr Markle of causing hurt to his daughter. The text did not ask how the surgical procedure had gone or how Mr Markle was or send him good wishes. Mr Markle was deeply hurt and responded with a curt message: 'I've done nothing to hurt you Meghan or anyone else … I'm sorry my heart attack is there any inconvenience for you'.
Meghan says that as a result of this 'unpleasant' message, she phoned her father 'a further four times within five minutes of the message being sent, but he declined to pick up.'
Harry also texted Mr Markle from her phone: 'Tom, it's Harry, please answer your phone. I need to know this is actually you because it doesn't sound like you at all'. Meghan claims: 'No response was received.'
Saturday May 19 - royal wedding day
According to Meghan, she receives a missed call from Thomas Markle at 04.57am on morning of the wedding.
Following the wedding TM says he tried to contact Meghan by phone and text, but received no response until the receipt of her Letter in August 2018.
February 6, 2019
People magazine publishes 'The Truth about Meghan - Her Best Friends Break Their Silence'. Meghan's friends give interview about Meghan and her estrangement from Thomas Markle, including her letter.
The article was reported on worldwide. But according to Meghan, she did not organise or authorise her friends to refer to the letter in People magazine
February 7 2019
Kensington Palace refuses to comment on whether Meghan's friends had given the interview at the request of Meghan, or with her consent.sonos sonos One (Gen 2) - Voice Controlled Smart Speaker with Amazon Alexa Built-in - Black read more
February 10 2019
Thomas Markle gives a copy of the Letter to the Mail on Sunday together with his own account of the reasons for their estrangement.
The newspaper then publishes extracts from letter and Thomas Markle's reply to People magazine correcting what he says were false and misleading slurs by Meghan's friends.
Associated Newspapers also allege that four days before the MoS piece on February 10 2019, the Duchess had already 'expressly or tacitly' allowed friends to leak the contents of the letter to People magazine, breaching her own privacy.
Lawyers for The Mail On Sunday and MailOnline have also claimed that the Duchess of Sussex's 'immaculate' handwriting