Meghan's privacy action against U.K. tabloid has first court hearing

The first court hearing in a privacy case brought by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, against a tabloid newspaper for printing part of a letter to her father began at the High Court in London, England, on Friday.

Tabloid seeks to dismiss part of claim by Duchess of Sussex

Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, leaves the annual Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey in London on March 9, 2020. A preliminary hearing in her legal case against the Mail on Sunday and its parent company, Associated Newspapers, began Friday in Britain’s High Court. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/The Associated Press)

The first court hearing in a privacy case brought by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, against a tabloid newspaper for printing part of a letter to her father began at the High Court in London, England, on Friday.

Meghan, wife of Queen Elizabeth's grandson Prince Harry, is suing publisher Associated Newspapers over articles its Mail on Sunday newspaper printed in February last year that were based on a letter she had sent to her father, Thomas Markle.

Lawyers for the duchess say its publication was a misuse of private information and breached her copyright. They are seeking aggravated damages from the paper.

Given Britain's coronavirus lockdown, Friday's hearing was held by video, which the judge, Mark Warby, said was a relatively new way of conducting such cases.

"It's not a trial, there will be no witnesses and I'm not going to make any findings of fact about the underlying events," Warby said. The hearing is one of the first stages in the legal action and a date for a full trial has not yet been set.

Meghan and Harry, who are living in the Los Angeles area having stepped down from their royal roles at the end of last month, are expected to listen in remotely to part of the hearing, a source said.

Thomas Markle, Meghan Markle's father, is seen in a still taken from video during an interview with ITV's Good Morning Britain program in June 2018. (Good Morning Britain/ITV/Reuters)

The lawyer for the newspaper, Antony White, sought on Friday to have parts of Meghan's claim struck out, arguing they were irrelevant or impermissible, not properly pleaded or disproportionate for the court to investigate.

The case centres on articles published in February 2019 about the rift between Meghan and her father, who fell out after her glitzy, pomp-laden wedding to Harry in May the year before.

Markle pulled out days beforehand after undergoing heart surgery and following news he had staged photos with a paparazzi photographer. Speculation about his attendance dominated the buildup to the ceremony.

Documents from Meghan's lawyers this week accused the Mail and other tabloids of harassing, humiliating and manipulating Markle and contributing toward the fallout between father and daughter.

They argue the Mail had also misquoted from the letter, which was never intended to be made public, to paint the royals in a poor light.

Details from text messages

The Mail says unnamed friends of Meghan had put her version of events in interviews with the U.S. magazine People and that Markle had the right to put his side.

The paper's lawyers also argue that given Meghan's royal status, there was legitimate public interest in her personal and family relationships.

In the papers submitted by Meghan's lawyers this week were details of text messages sent by Harry to his future father-in-law, pleading with him not to talk to the media and to call him and his daughter.

The duchess missed a call from Markle at 4.57 a.m. on the morning of the wedding and she has not received any calls or messages from him since then, the court papers added. She sent her letter to him in August 2018.

The legal action is the latest step in growing hostility between the media and the couple.

This week, Meghan and Harry announced they would have "zero engagement" with four of Britain's top tabloids, accusing them of false and invasive coverage.

That was treated with derision by commentators in many British newspapers, who accused them of egotism and questionable timing by making the announcement during the COVID-19 crisis.

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