Meghan Markle is trying to stop Associated Newspapers Limited from disclosing the private identities of five friends who spoke on the Duchess of Sussex’s behalf in an anonymous People magazine feature last year.
As part of her ongoing lawsuit against the tabloids, the royal’s legal team filed court documents on Thursday, seen by HuffPost, to stop Associated Newspapers ― which owns the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday ― from revealing the names.
In a witness statement filed on behalf of the duchess in High Court, Meghan claims that the tabloid wants to publish the names “to expose them in the public domain for no reason other than clickbait and commercial gain,” calling the move “vicious” and saying it would threaten “their emotional and mental wellbeing.”
“Each of these women is a private citizen, young mother, and each has a basic right to privacy,” she said, adding that the women “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 behaviour of Britain’s tabloid media.”
“These five women are not on trial, and nor am I,” the duchess continued. “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.”
While the identities of the friends have been disclosed in court, the five have not been named in public.
A Mail on Sunday spokesman told HuffPost, “The Mail on Sunday had absolutely no intention of publishing the identities of the five friends this weekend.”
“But their evidence is at the heart of the case and we see no reason why their identities should be kept secret,” he added. “That is why we told the Duchess’s lawyers last week that the question of their confidentiality should be properly considered by the Court.”
The Duchess of Sussex announced that she was pursuing legal action against Associated Newspapers last year after the Mail on Sunday published parts of a private letter that Meghan wrote to her father, Thomas Markle, in August 2018.
Associated Newspapers believes that the publication of the letter a few months later, on Feb. 9, 2019, was legitimized, because one of Meghan’s friends mentioned that the letter existed in the People magazine feature published on Feb. 6, 2019.
In court documents obtained by HuffPost last week, the Duchess of Sussex claimed that she had no knowledge that her friends — who were worried about her mental health “and the impact which the false portrayal of her in the media was having on her” — were going to speak to People on her behalf.
The documents also show the duchess’ frustration with the Kensington Palace Communications Team policy of giving “no comment” responses to media, even in the face of “hundreds of thousands of inaccurate articles.”
“As her friends had never seen her in this state before, they were rightly concerned for her welfare, specifically as she was pregnant, unprotected by the Institution, and prohibited from defending herself,” the documents say.
A spokesperson for Kensington Palace declined to comment at the time.