Meghan, Duchess of Sussex has taken the unusual decision to sue the publisher of the Mail on Sunday after the newspaper published a handwritten letter she had sent to her estranged father.
The decision came as Prince Harry launched an extraordinary and highly personal attack on the British tabloid press and its treatment of his wife, saying he could no longer be a “silent witness to her private suffering”.
Emphasising his respect for the importance of “objective, truthful reporting”, he accused parts of the media of “waging campaigns against individuals with no thought to the consequences” and compared the treatment of Meghan to coverage of his mother, Princess Diana.
The duke said his “deepest fear is history repeating itself”. He wrote: “There comes a point when the only thing to do is to stand up to this behaviour, because it destroys people and destroys lives. Put simply, it is bullying, which scares and silences people. We all know this isn’t acceptable, at any level. We won’t and can’t believe in a world where there is no accountability for this.
“Though this action may not be the safe one, it is the right one … 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.”
The statement, issued on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s official website on Tuesday, was published as Meghan moved to start proceedings in the high court over the misuse of private information, infringement of copyright and breach of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
The Guardian reported this year that the Mail on Sunday was being threatened with legal action because the authors of letters retain ownership of the copyright even after the physical correspondence is in the possession of another individual. Pursuing legal action on this narrow basis also gives the royals a greater chance of success against DMG Media, formerly Associated Newspapers, which also owns the Daily Mail and MailOnline – both of which have run a substantial number of stories about Meghan.
The Mail on Sunday has run multiple embarrassing stories involving the duchess’s father, Thomas Markle, including staged paparazzi photographs of him visiting an internet cafe to read about his daughter’s engagement to the prince.
Other critical coverage of the couple has ranged from their use of private jets to their refusal to allow media coverage of the christening of their baby son Archie or name his godparents. They have also been criticised for the £2.4m cost to the public purse for renovations at their Windsor home, Frogmore Cottage.
However, the royals have limited ability to stop the publication of such stories, prompting the decision to focus on the publication of Meghan’s letter to her father.
The photographs of the letter remain available on MailOnline. A spokesman for the newspaper stood by its reporting, setting up a potential court showdown: “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.”
Meghan and Harry, who are on a 10-day tour of southern Africa, have employed the libel lawyers Schillings, using private funds to bring the case.
In his statement, Harry emphasised that he and Meghan believed in “media freedom and objective, truthful reporting” as a “cornerstone of democracy”.
“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.
“Because in today’s digital age, press fabrications are repurposed as truth across the globe. One day’s coverage is no longer tomorrow’s chip-paper.“I have been a silent witness to her private suffering for too long. To stand back and do nothing would be contrary to everything we believe in.”
The statement is unprecedented in the scale of its attack on the media, although it is far from the first time Harry has taken on the press.
When news of his relationship with Meghan Markle became public, he criticised “racial overtones” in reporting.
Last week, it emerged he had complained to the BBC for broadcasting and publishing online an image from a neo-Nazi social media site that called him a “race traitor” and depicted the royal with a gun pointed at his head. Although the BBC internally and the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom rejected the complaint, ruling that the use of the image in a report about the activities of the group was in the public interest, the BBC did apologise for not warning the duke in advance.
His latest statement accused the British tabloid press of waging a “ruthless” campaign against Meghan that had “escalated over the past year, throughout her pregnancy and while raising our newborn son”.
Harry, said the recent positive coverage of their African tour exposed “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”.
“She is the same woman she was a year ago on our wedding day, just as she is the same woman you’ve seen on this Africa tour.
“For these select media, this is a game and one we have been unwilling to play from the start.”
A legal spokesperson for Schillings said: “We have initiated legal proceedings against the Mail on Sunday, and its parent company Associated Newspapers, over the intrusive and unlawful publication of a private letter written by the Duchess of Sussex, which is part of a campaign by this media group to publish false and deliberately derogatory stories about her, as well as her husband.
“Given the refusal of Associated Newspapers to resolve this issue satisfactorily, we have issued proceedings to redress this breach of privacy, infringement of copyright and the aforementioned media agenda.”