In Focus

A timeline of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s legal action against UK press

Duke of Sussex launched latest complaint against Associated Newspapers this week

The long-standing battle between the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and the British media ratcheted up this week, with Prince Harry now taking on the publisher of the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday and Mail Online.

Court documents show the Duke of Sussex launched a libel complaint against Associated Newspapers Limited on Wednesday afternoon.

Reports suggest his claim related to a Mail on Sunday article published on 20 February with the headline: “Revealed: How Harry tried to keep his legal fight over bodyguards secret.” The story referenced a separate legal battle the prince is having with the Home Office over his family’s private police protection.

The news of Prince Harry’s claim against Associated Newspapers comes weeks after the closure of Meghan Markle’s three-year battle against the same publisher for printing a “personal and private” letter she sent to her father three months after her wedding.

The number of lawsuits the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have launched against the UK press now total five in the past three years. Here’s what you need to know about each of them.

Meghan Markle vs. Associated Newspapers Limited

Back in 2019, Markle sued Associated Newspapers over five articles published in 2019 that reproduced parts of a handwritten letter she had sent to her father, Thomas Markle, in August 2018.

In 2021, a High Court judge issued a ruling in favour of Markle, saying the Mail on Sunday and Mail Online had violated the Duchess of Sussex’s privacy by publishing excerpts of the private letter. The judge said Markle had a “reasonable expectation that the contents of the letter would remain private”.

Associated Newspapers appealed the High Court’s decision, arguing that Markle had written the letter with the knowledge that it could be leaked and pushed for the case to go to trial. However, the appeal was dismissed, with judges ruling that the Duchess of Sussex had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in regards to the contents of the letter.

In a statement made to the press after the ruling, Markle described the court’s decision as “precedent setting”. But, she added, “what matters most is that we are now collectively brave enough to reshape a tabloid industry that conditions people to be cruel, and profits from the lies and pain that they create”.

The Duchess of Sussex was awarded a nominal sum of £1, but the publisher also agreed to pay a “confidential sum in damages for copyright infringement” and a “substantial part of Meghan’s legal costs”, said The Guardian.

Prince Harry vs. News Group Newspapers and Reach

The same week in 2019 that Markle began legal action against Associated Newspapers, the Duke of Sussex launched a legal action against the owners of The Sun, the defunct News of the World and the Daily Mirror.

The Duke of Sussex’s claim related to alleged phone-hacking dating back to between January 1996 and December 2010, with Prince Harry claiming damages of more than £200,000, according to The Guardian.

Court papers said the illegal interception of Prince Harry’s voicemail messages by journalists “affected his relationships with friends and family” and impacted his relationship with Chelsy Davy, which ended in 2010. 

In 2021, journalists at Newsweek obtained a court filing by lawyers for News Group Newspapers, the Rupert Murdoch-owned publisher of The Sun and formerly News of the World, which claimed that Prince Harry was “too late to sue” over alleged phone-hacking. 

“These [stories] were first published over 6 years prior to the issue of these proceedings and this claim is therefore statute-barred and it is denied that [Prince Harry] is entitled to any relief in relation to it,” the document read. 

A spokesperson for News Group Newspapers refused to comment on what it described as “historical allegations… many of which have been firmly rejected in proceedings over a number of years”. Reach, the owner of the Daily Mirror, has not commented on the allegations. 

The Guardian expects this legal dispute to come to court this year, describing it as “another case that would pit one half of the Sussexes against powerful players in the tabloid press”.

Prince Harry vs. the BBC

Prince Harry complained to the BBC over the corporation’s decision to broadcast and publish 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.

A spokesperson for Prince Harry told The Guardian in September 2019 that the image, first shared in August 2018, had “caused his family great distress specifically while his wife was nearly five months pregnant”.

The BBC internally and the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom rejected the complaint, ruling that the image’s use was clearly in the public interest. But the BBC did apologise for failing to warn the Duke of Sussex ahead of broadcasting and publishing the image. 

Prince Harry vs. Associated Newspapers

In 2020, Prince Harry sued Associated Newspapers for libel over two “almost identical” articles published in the Mail on Sunday and on Mail Online which claimed he had “turned his back” on the Royal Marines after stepping away from frontline royal duties earlier that year.

The articles, published in October 2020, claimed he had “not been in touch by phone, letter nor email since his last appearance as an honorary Marine” in March, said the BBC

A remote hearing at the High Court in London on 1 February 2021 accepted the claims were “false”. The Duke of Sussex accepted an apology and “substantial damages” from the publisher. Jenny Afia, his lawyer, said he would donate the money to his Invictus Games Foundation for wounded warriors.

“The baseless, false and defamatory stories published in the Mail on Sunday and on the website Mail Online constituted not only a personal attack upon the Duke’s character but also wrongly brought into question his service to this country,” said Afia.

Duke and Duchess of Sussex vs. the BBC

In June 2021, the law firm Schillings issued a legal letter to some news broadcasters and publishers on behalf of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, accusing the BBC of “false and defamatory” reporting.

The accusation related to a June 2021 article by the BBC’s royal correspondent Jonny Dymond, which claimed that the couple had not asked the Queen about naming their daughter Lilibet.

Dymond quoted an unnamed Buckingham Palace source who “disputed reports in the wake of the announcement of the name that Prince Harry and Meghan had spoken to the Queen before the birth”.

The letter said the BBC report was “false and defamatory and should not be repeated”.

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