‘Palace Four’ drawn into Meghan’s dispute with Associated Newspapers

Ex-employees of royal couple could shed light on drafting of letter to Thomas Markle, high court hears

Four former employees of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex could have evidence shedding light on the circumstances of Meghan’s letter to her estranged father, the high court has heard.

Any role of the so-called “Palace Four” required further investigation, and was one of the reasons the duchess’s privacy action against the Mail on Sunday should proceed to a full trial, the newspaper’s publishers argued.

Meghan, 39, is suing Associated Newspapers Ltd (ANL) over publication of extracts from her 2018 private letter to Thomas Markle, 76, reproduced in February 2019 in five articles in the Mail on Sunday and Mail Online.

Her lawyers are applying for “summary judgment”, which would see part of her privacy case resolved without a trial, and argue that the judge, Mr Justice Warby, should find in her favour as ANL has no real prospect of success.

On the second day of the hearing, Antony White QC, for ANL, said “oral evidence and documentary evidence is likely to be available at trial which would shed light on certain key factors in the case”.

One issue was the circumstances in which the letter was drafted, “which we now know involved the Kensington Palace communications team, a curious feature for a wholly private letter”, he told the judge.

ANL claims Meghan intended the letter to be used as part of a “media strategy”, which the duchess has denied.

White said a letter from lawyers representing the “Palace Four” indicated they would be able to “shed some light” on the drafting. The four are Jason Knauf, the then communications secretary to the royal couple, who ANL believes “was involved” in the wording of the letter; the former communications staff members Christian Jones and Sara Latham; and the former private secretary Samantha Cohen.

The letter from lawyers on behalf of the four, sent to the legal teams of both parties, said none of them welcomed involvement in the case, which had arisen only as a result of duties in their respective jobs at the material time. “Nor does any of our clients wish to take sides in the dispute between your respective clients. Our clients are all strictly neutral,” it said.

“They have no interest in assisting either party to the proceedings. Their only interest is in ensuring a level playing field, insofar as any evidence they may be able to give is concerned.” But they would provide assistance to the court if they could, it said.

The letter went on to say it was their lawyers’ preliminary view “that one or more of our clients would be in a position to shed some light” on “the creation of the letter and the electronic draft”.

They might also be able to shed light on “whether or not the claimant anticipated that the letter might come into the public domain”, and whether or not Meghan “directly or indirectly provided private information” to the authors of the unauthorised biography of the couple, Finding Freedom.

Justin Rushbrooke QC, for Meghan, said in written submissions that the letter from the so-called Palace Four contained no information supporting ANL’s claims that Knauf co-authored the letter at the centre of the dispute. Meghan’s case is that Knauf provided feedback on a draft but no wording.

Rushbrooke said the claim that there might be “hypothetical” evidence from the former palace staff was not enough to proceed to trial and that Meghan’s letter was “self-evidently” private. “If a letter of this kind isn’t on the face of it private, confidential and deeply personal, it’s difficult to see how any letter could be,” he said. To have a trial “in order to defeat the obvious” was “just surreal”.

He added there was no evidence the letter was part of a “media strategy”.

Meghan is seeking damages from ANL for alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act.

Mr Justice Warby reserved judgment, and will publish his ruling at a later date.


Caroline Davies

The GuardianTramp

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