Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, has sued the Mail on Sunday for publishing what her husband Prince Harry has dubbed “lie after lie” at the expense of his wife, taking the decades-long feud between Britain’s royal family and the tabloid press back to the courts.
The legal action was accompanied by a withering statement from the Duke of Sussex, hitting back at “a ruthless campaign” of misrepresentation that “has escalated over the past year, throughout her pregnancy and while raising our newborn son”.
Although the duke and duchess have had a notoriously difficult relationship with Britain’s tabloid newspapers, the decision to sue and launch such a public attack is a rare step that underlines how badly relations have deteriorated.
The claim relates to a Mail on Sunday story published in February that included extracts from a personal letter the duchess sent to her estranged father, Thomas Markle, that pleaded with him to stop hurting her through the press.
“The contents of a private letter were published unlawfully in an intentionally destructive manner to manipulate you, the reader, and further the divisive agenda of the media group in question,” the duke said, noting that some paragraphs and words were “strategically omitted”.
“There is a human cost to this relentless propaganda, specifically when it is knowingly false and malicious, and though we have continued to put on a brave face — as so many of you can relate to — I cannot begin to describe how painful it has been,” he added.
The suit against its parent company Associated Newspapers relates “the intrusive and unlawful publication of a private letter”, that breached the duchess’s privacy and copyright. Under law, authors of letters can still claim copyright over the text, even after it has been sent.
The suit in some ways mirrors a landmark legal action launched by the duke’s father Prince Charles against Associated Newspapers in 2006 after it published extracts of his diary that described an “awful Soviet-style” ceremony to hand over Hong Kong.
Citing breaches of copyright and privacy, the Prince of Wales won an injunction that stopped further extracts being published and showed the limits of newspapers using a “public interest” defence.
With unusually strong language on Tuesday, the duke and duchess said they had been unable to correct “the continual misrepresentations”, something that certain media outlets had “exploited on a daily and sometimes hourly basis”.
“It is for this reason we are taking legal action, a process that has been many months in the making,” Prince Harry said. “The positive coverage of the past week from these same publications exposes the double standards of this specific press pack that has vilified her almost daily for the past nine months; they have been able to create lie after lie at her expense simply because she has not been visible while on maternity leave.”
The Royal couple are currently on tour in South Africa, a trip covered with largely positive enthusiasm across Britain’s broadcast and print media. The duke and duchess have engaged libel lawyers Schillings and will donate any damages to a bullying charity.
With reference to his late mother Diana, Princess of Wales, the duke said his “deepest fear” was “history repeating itself”. “I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditised to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person. I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces,” he wrote.
A Mail on Sunday spokesman said: “The Mail on Sunday stands by the story it published and will be defending this case vigorously. Specifically, we categorically deny that the Duchess’s letter was edited in any way that changed its meaning.”