The Duchess of Sussex’s letter to her estranged father “signalled the end of our relationship”, Thomas Markle has told the High Court.
Meghan, 39, is suing the publisher of The Mail On Sunday and MailOnline over a series of articles which reproduced parts of the handwritten letter sent to 76-year-old Thomas Markle in August 2018.
She is seeking damages for alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act over five articles, published in February 2019, which included extracts from the “private and confidential” letter to her father.
Her lawyers say the publication of an “intrinsically private, personal and sensitive” letter was a “plain and serious invasion” of her privacy and argue Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) has “no prospect” of defending her privacy and copyright claims.
However, ANL claims Meghan wrote the letter “with a view to it being disclosed publicly at some future point” in order “to defend her against charges of being an uncaring or unloving daughter”.
The duchess is applying for “summary judgment”, a legal step which would see those parts of the case resolved without a trial, in relation to her claims for misuse of private information and breach of copyright.
In a witness statement filed by ANL’s lawyers for the hearing, which started on Tuesday, Mr Markle said the suggestion by a “longtime friend” of his daughter in an interview with People magazine that Meghan sent the letter to “repair our relationship” was false.
He also claimed he had to “defend himself” against the People article, which he said had “vilified me by making out that I was dishonest, exploitative, publicity-seeking, uncaring and cold-hearted”.
Mr Markle said in his statement: “The letter was not an attempt at a reconciliation. It was a criticism of me.
“The letter didn’t say she loved me. It did not even ask how I was. It showed no concern about the fact I had suffered a heart attack and asked no questions about my health.
“It actually signalled the end of our relationship, not a reconciliation.”
Mr Markle also said the article in People magazine wrongly accused him of telling “mistruths” and “contained other inaccuracies about me”.
He said: “It was wrong for People magazine to say I had lied about Meg shutting me out – she had shut me out, as the letter from her showed.”
Mr Markle criticised People for suggesting “I was to blame for the end of the relationship as I had ignored her”, saying: “That was false. I had repeatedly tried to reach her after the wedding but I couldn’t find a way of getting her to talk to me.”
He added: “Until I read the article in People magazine I had never intended to talk publicly about Meg’s letter to me.
“The content of that article caused me to change my mind.
“It was only by publishing the text of the letter that I could properly set the record straight and show that what People magazine had published was false and unfair.
“The article had given an inaccurate picture of the contents of the letter and my reply and had vilified me by making out that I was dishonest, exploitative, publicity-seeking, uncaring and cold-hearted, leaving a loyal and dutiful daughter devastated. I had to defend myself against that attack.”
ANL’s barrister Antony White QC earlier argued that Meghan’s admission she had “a fear” that her letter to her father might be intercepted showed that “she must, at the very least, have appreciated that her father might choose to disclose it”.
He added that the “admitted falsity” of the People magazine article, which ANL says brought the letter to her father into the public domain, meant Mr Markle “was not only entitled to correct public information about the letter and the reply, it was in the public interest that (he) did so”.
Mr White argued: “Mr Markle has a right to tell his story of his relationship and communications with his daughter … no US court would stop him from doing so, and he could have and could still, whatever the outcome of this case, speak to the US media on this topic at any time.”
He also referred to the involvement of the Kensington Palace communications team before the letter was sent, saying: “No truly private letter from daughter to father would require any input from the Kensington Palace communications team.”
Justin Rushbrooke QC, representing the duchess, described the hand-written letter as “a heartfelt plea from an anguished daughter to her father”, which was sent to Mr Markle at his home in Mexico via “the claimant’s accountant … to minimise the risk of interception”.
He said the “contents and character of the letter were intrinsically private, personal and sensitive in nature” and that Meghan therefore “had a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of the contents of the letter”.
Mr Rushbrooke argued that “there is no real prospect of the defendant establishing that the claimant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the contents of the letter and the defendant’s contentions to the contrary are utterly fanciful”.
The full trial of the duchess’s claim was due to be heard at the High Court this month, but last year the case was adjourned until autumn 2021 for a “confidential” reason.
The remote hearing before Mr Justice Warby is due to last two days and it is expected he will reserve his judgment to a later date.