Meghan Markle Accused of Using Court Case for 'Spin' After Clickbait Claim

Meghan Markle was today accused of using her privacy court case for PR and "spin," with a U.K. tabloid claiming she is playing to the media.

The Duchess of Sussex this month issued a strongly worded witness statement claiming the Mail on Sunday was staging a "vicious" campaign to expose the identity of her friends for "clickbait" headlines.

She said the "emotional and mental wellbeing" of five young mothers who defended her to People magazine would be under threat if the newspaper was allowed to name them.

However, lawyers for the publisher, Associated Newspapers, today dismissed the attack as "unsupported by anything" and Markle's "opinion only."

A court filing suggests she made the plea "for the purpose of dissemination to the media, and not to assist the court."

The document reads: "[Associated Newspapers] has not sought to spin coverage in its own favor.

"In very sharp contrast, [Markle] has, from the very beginning of the action, used her public profile and her PR team to publicize and promote the merits of her own position."

Lawyers for the two sides were at the High Court, in London, today for a hearing on whether Markle's five friends should be named.

The friends have become integral to a case about the publication of a letter Markle sent her father on the breakdown of their relationship.

The duchess claims the handwritten note was private. The newspaper says it was fair game because it was mentioned in interviews five of her closest confidants gave to People magazine.

Meghan Markle In Dubbo, Australia
Meghan Markle attends a naming and unveiling ceremony for the new Royal Flying Doctor Service aircraft at Dubbo Airport on October 17, 2018 in Dubbo, Australia. Dominic Lipinski/Getty

Markle's lawyers say the women may refuse to give evidence if named before the case begins.

In a witness statement filed earlier this month, she said: "Each of these women is a private citizen, young mother, and each has a basic right to privacy.

"Both the Mail on Sunday and the court system have their names on a confidential schedule, but for the Mail on Sunday to expose them in the public domain for no reason other than clickbait and commercial gain is vicious and poses a threat to their emotional and mental wellbeing.

"The Mail on Sunday is playing a media game with real lives."

The newspaper's lawyers today said: "At the very same time as serving the application on 9 July 2020, [Meghan] sent copies of her own witness statement in ostensible support of it to the national media.

"Since the contents of that statement are unsupported by anything—they appear to be [Markle's] opinion only—the statement appears to have been made for the purpose of dissemination to the media, and not to assist the court."

They claimed Markle's team had briefed journalists on "nearly all" aspects of the case but did not mention that she had agreed to pay court costs of $88,000 over an earlier hearing in which the judge ruled against her.

The duchess had been planning to claim there was a malicious agenda against her at Associated Newspapers, spanning the Mail on Sunday and other titles.

However, Judge Mark Warby ruled the claims were inadmissible in May, leaving Markle with the legal bill.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in Rain
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle visit Victoria Park, in Dubbo, Australia, on October 17, 2018. Samir Hussein/Getty

The Mail on Sunday's lawyers also criticized Prince Harry over a public statement he made as the legal action against the newspaper was announced in the autumn.

They wrote: "[Markle] and her husband issued a press statement stating their reasons for bringing this action in highly emotive terms prejudging the merits of the claim on October 1, 2019, 2 days after issuing the claim form."

Meghan's original witness statement reads: "Associated Newspapers, the owner of the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday, is threatening to publish the names of five women—five private citizens—who made a choice on their own to speak anonymously with a U.S. media outlet more than a year ago, to defend me from the bullying behavior of Britain's tabloid media.

"These five women are not on trial, and nor am I. The publisher of the Mail on Sunday is the one on trial.

"It is this publisher that acted unlawfully and is attempting to evade accountability; to create a circus and distract from the point of this case—that the Mail on Sunday unlawfully published my private letter."

The High Court today deferred judgment on whether the five women can be named until early August.