On Monday, one of the most remarkable court cases in recent legal history continues as a high-profile member of the Royal Family takes unprecedented legal action against one of the most popular newspapers in the country.
Meghan Markle, with the support of her husband, Prince Harry, is suing Associated Newspapers Ltd for damages after the Mail On Sunday and the MailOnline published excerpts of a letter she had written to her father, Thomas Markle.
The Duchess of Sussex, 39, claims the letter was private, and is seeking damages for alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act.
The legal action is the apex of tensions between the couple and the UK’s tabloid press. Earlier this year, Harry, 36, and Meghan banned four of the most well-read newspapers in the country (the Daily Mail, Mirror, Sun and Express) from having any sort of communication with them.
Read more: 4 court battles Harry and Meghan are currently fighting
In September, the duchess’s legal action against Splash News and Pictures reached High Court, as she sues them for pictures of her and Archie taken in Canada. The pictures were sold and used widely by Associated Newspapers and News Group, who publish papers like the Daily Mail and The Sun.
At the heart of it, is a long-held grievance keenly felt by the royal couple that they have hounded and hassled for too long. Unusually for members of the Royal Family – whose motto consistently has been “never explain, never complain” – they have decided to take the tabloid press head on in the courts.
The newspaper group says the contents of the letter were not private or confidential, and denies allegations that it only printed some extracts of the note.
Yahoo UK looks at a timeline of the events that brought us to this extraordinary moment.
Table of Contents
Prince Harry and Meghan were in final preparation mode for their wedding, including organising for her father to walk the bride down the aisle.
Thousands of miles away in the Mexican town of Rosarito, Thomas Markle was busy studying about Britain in preparation for the big day – or so it seemed. Pictures of him looking up his daughter’s new home online went viral, but were later revealed to have been staged with a paparazzo.
The revelation did not go down well in the UK press, and in the days that followed Markle, 75, suffered a heart attack and was in hospital for several days.
Read more: The 360: Were Harry and Meghan right to ban Britain’s tabloids?
The news of his heart attack came to public attention in an article on TMZ, a celebrity website, in an article which also saw him defend himself for the paparazzo images.
It has since been claimed in court documents that Meghan and Harry only found out about his health when they too saw the TMZ article.
The documents say at this time the couple sent Mr Markle several text messages and tried to call him. Harry claims to have urged his father-in-law not to go to the press and reminded him they wanted to help him.
Mr Markle appears on Good Morning Britain, where he says he is proud of his daughter but expresses regret for being a “footnote” in the big day.
He said Meghan cried when he said he would not be coming over, and described her as being intelligent and caring.
Host Piers Morgan said he was paid “a few thousand pounds” for the interview.
An article is printed on MailOnline which claims to be the fruit of a nine-hour interview with Mr Markle in Rosarito.
In it, he says he has been cut off from Meghan, and suggests things would be easier if he was dead.
Read more: Harry and Meghan’s private texts to Thomas Markle revealed in court documents
According to documents filed in court, Mr Markle later told Meghan this article was “85% lies”.
He said: “The next day [Peter Sheridan] announced and bragged that he got a 9 hour interview. He said a few things I said in confidence, but 85% were lies and bulls***! I called him and told him he was a thief, a liar and a coward and I would GET EVEN! ….
“I didn’t want or intend to give him an interview and I certainly would not do 9 hours for free!….
“When I was asked if I tried to borrow money from you, three days before the wedding? I said, “no I did not, but I know she would have helped me if I would have asked.” I made a comment about Tom Jr not paying me back, “not one red cent”, and they changed it to Meghan’s dad complaining that his kids won’t pay him back one red cent!! That comment came from Peter Sheridan’s 9 hour interview….
“I never said anything about your grandma, never!! I know you took care of her, I don’t know where that comes from? I appreciate that you have always been concerned for my health and you were trying to get me help”.
The Duchess of Sussex sends a five page handwritten letter to her father in Mexico.
People magazine publishes an article claiming to be an interview with five of Meghan’s friends, in which they mention the letter she wrote to her father, and say he has not been in touch with them [the couple].
In the article, published on 6 February, the friends say the letter read: “Dad, I’m so heartbroken. I love you. I have one father. Please stop victimising me through the media so we can repair our relationship.”
Four days later, The Mail On Sunday and the MailOnline publish what it says is the full text of the letter from Meghan to her father.
According to the article, Mr Markle says he had no intention to share the letter, but felt he had to because of the People magazine article.
The article stated “that he never intended to make the handwritten missive public ‘out of respect for Meghan’ – but says he has been forced to do so now because its contents have been falsely portrayed”.
The article’s headline is “Revealed: The handwritten letter showing true tragedy of Meghan’s rift with father she says has ‘broken her heart into a million pieces’ – and why he feels forced to make the ‘devastating’ missive public”.
Mr Markle is reported by the Mail to have said he found her letter “hurtful” and said it was not the “olive branch” he hoped for.
The paper also publishes sections of a letter he sent in reply to her, and a section of a letter written to Doria Ragland.
Mr Markle does not take payment for the article.
In the same month, the Guardian reports that Meghan is considering legal action.
The Sussexes go on their first (and last) royal tour as a family, taking baby Archie with them to South Africa.
Toward the end of the trip, they make the explosive announcement that Meghan will be suing Associated Newspapers over the letter.
In addition, Prince Harry launches an attack on the tabloid media.
In a statement, he says: “The contents of a private letter were published unlawfully in an intentionally destructive manner to manipulate you, the reader, and further the divisive agenda of the media group in question. In addition to their unlawful publication of this private document, they purposely misled you by strategically omitting select paragraphs, specific sentences, and even singular words to mask the lies they had perpetuated for over a year.”
He also says he has a deep fear of history repeating itself, alluding to his mother Princess Diana’s death as she was pursued by paparazzi in Paris in 1997.
Read more: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle cut ties with four UK tabloids over ‘invasive’ stories
No one claims the letter is fake, but Harry claims the letter was not printed in full – which is denied by Associated Newspapers, the group which owns the MailOnline and the Mail On Sunday.
The couple decide to skip the traditional Royal Family Christmas and take a six-week break in Canada.
The same month, Meghan files the first papers in her lawsuit against Associated Newspapers. In these papers, Meghan not only addresses the issue of the letter but says there have been other articles which were false, including reports she spent £5,000 on a copper bathtub for their home in Frogmore Cottage.
Harry and Meghan announce they intend to “step back” as senior members of the Royal Family and work both to earn money and to represent the Queen. The palace indicates this is not possible.
In the same month, Associated Newspapers sets out its defence, in which it claims the duchess’s elaborate handwriting is proof she expected the letter to be shared.
It also emerged she had copied the letter out from a draft, and had a version of the letter herself.
Associated Newspapers claims the letter shows Meghan’s “previous conduct in the best possible light” and makes “multiple self-congratulatory remarks” and so the duchess “could not have reasonably expected the letter to lead to a reconciliation between herself and her father”.
The group wholly denies the allegations from the duchess – particularly the claim that the letter was edited in any way that changed its meaning – and says it will hotly contest the case.
Read more: Eight times the Royal Family has sued the media
In its defence, lawyers for the publisher said: “The contents of the letter were not private or confidential, self-evidently or at all.”
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex carry out their final royal duties in the UK and then leave, returning to Canada and then the US. They have since moved to California.
Harry and Meghan write to the editors of four newspapers in the UK, The Sun, the Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror and the Daily Express, and tell them they will no longer co-operate with them.
The letter indicates their communications team will also be told not to deal with the papers or their reporters, or anyone from online teams, should they be approached.
Meghan’s lawyer files paperwork in response to the Mail on Sunday’s replies to her original filing.
In it, she reveals her father told her the articles published about him were “lies”. Meghan and Harry are also forced to reveal a series of text messages which they sent to Mr Markle before their wedding.
On 24 April, a virtual hearing takes place at the High Court, and lawyers for Associated Newspapers ask the court to strike out parts of Meghan’s case.
Lawyers particularly say allegations of “dishonesty and malicious intent” made against it by the duchess should not form part of her case.
They also say the details of nine additional articles given by the duchess’s legal team of other times she claims lies were written about her are irrelevant.
Both sides make their cases in court, and the judge retires to consider his ruling, which is delivered on 1 May.
Meghan loses the first battle, with the judge agreeing with ANL’s lawyers that some parts of her case should not be heard in the full trial.
In the ruling, Mr Justice Warby says the parts of Meghan’s case which should be struck out include allegations “the defendant acted dishonestly, and in bad faith”, and “deliberately dug up or stirred up conflict between the claimant and her father”.
Claims she was distressed by an “obvious agenda of publishing intrusive or offensive stories about [her] intended to portray her in a false and damaging light” are also struck out.
It has expensive consequences for Meghan, who agrees to pay ANL’s legal bill for the hearing of £50,000, and has her own costs of about £60,000.
In the summer, the case makes a dramatic return to court as Meghan launched a bid to keep the names of the five friends who spoke to People magazine 18 months before a secret.
Meghan’s team file the urgent bid to keep the names private, confirming the names had been given to the court but confidentially.
ANL’s team resist the application, saying the people involved are “important potential witnesses on a key issue”. Part of their case hinges on the letter having been mentioned by the friends in the interview, though the duchess says she did not know they were going to People ahead of the publication.
After hearing both sides, the judge makes a decision – and this time its in Meghan’s favour. The names won’t be released – for now.
Mr Justice Warby says: “At this stage, continued anonymity not only upholds the agreement made between People magazine and the five friends, and the reasonable expectations which that generated; it also supports the proper administration of justice by shielding the friends from the “glare of publicity” in the pre-trial stage.
“Generally, it does not help the interests of justice if those involved in litigation are subjected to, or surrounded by, a frenzy of publicity.”
But both sides are given a wrap on the knuckles for the slow progress of the trial and for what he calls a “tit-for-tat” approach.
On 21 September, the case will return to court for a management and costs hearing. As restrictions have eased in the UK, there won’t be a remote hearing, which may mean the duchess has a nervous wait to hear what has happened from her home in California.
The case is expected to go to full trial next year.