Meghan Markle wins fight to keep identities of five friends secret

The Duchess of Sussex, 39, is suing the national newspaper publisher over five articles – two in the Mail on Sunday and three on MailOnline – that reproduced parts of a handwritten letter she sent to her estranged father Thomas Markle, 75, in August 2018.

She is seeking damages for alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act. Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) denies all allegations and says it will hotly contest the case.

The group of five friends spoke out in February 2019 about the bullying Meghan allegedly claimed she had faced since her relationship with Prince Harry became public knowledge in 2016.

They will remain identified only in confidential court documents after her lawyers argued they had a right to anonymity, both as confidential journalistic sources and under their own privacy rights.

Mr Justice Warby said he had concluded the duchess should be granted the order ‘for the time being at least’ in a ruling on Wednesday.

The mother-of-one previously said her friends spoke to People reporters without her knowledge and denied a claim made by ANL that she ’caused or permitted’ the article to be published. Meghan and Harry relocated to California in March amid the coronavirus pandemic .

Justin Rushbrooke QC, representing the duchess, said in written submissions to the court: ‘To force the claimant, as the defendant urges this court to do, to disclose their identities to the public at this stage would be to exact an unacceptably high price for pursuing her claim for invasion of privacy against the defendant in respect of its disclosure of the letter.

On her case, which will be tried in due course, the defendant has been guilty of a flagrant and unjustified intrusion into her private and family life. ‘Given the close factual nexus between the letter and the events leading up to the defendant’s decision to publish its contents, it would be a cruel irony were she required to pay that price before her claim has even been determined.’

Meghan Markle turns 39 after whirlwind year with Harry and Archie Mr Rushbrooke accused the publisher of making the interviews relevant to the case, ‘forcing’ the duchess to identify her friends in the court documents. They also alleged ANL had ‘already demonstrated a willingness to publish articles’ based on the contents of court documents.

However, lawyers representing ANL argued the friends were ‘important potential witnesses on a key issue’. In a written submission, Antony White QC, representing ANL, said: ‘Reporting these matters without referring to names would be a heavy curtailment of the media’s and the defendant’s entitlement to report this case and the public’s right to know about it.

The duchess has claimed her friends gave the interview without her knowledge

‘No friend’s oral evidence could be fully and properly reported because full reporting might identify her, especially as there has already been media speculation as to their identities.’ Mr White claimed approving the order would allow Meghan to disclose the identities to anyone – including the media.

This would mean other outlets could publish it, while ANL’s newspapers would be unable to do so. The royal had ‘used’ her public profile and PR team to ‘publicise and promote the merits of her own position’ since starting the action, Mr White said.

The duchess lost the first round in the legal battle on May 1, when Mr Justice Warby struck out parts of her claim, including allegations that the publisher acted ‘dishonestly’ by leaving out certain passages of the letter. Meghan has agreed to pay ANL’s £67,888 costs for that hearing in full.

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