Meghan’s ex-aide claims she realised father might leak letter, court told

ITV News' Royal Editor Chris Ship has the latest on this on-going story

The Duchess of Sussex told her former aide that a handwritten letter to her estranged father was "drafted with the understanding that it could be leaked", the Court of Appeal has heard.

Jason Knauf, who was communications secretary to Meghan and Harry until March 2019, said the duchess had indicated to him in August of the previous year she recognised it was possible her father, Thomas Markle, would make the letter public.

Mr Knauf's evidence was revealed on Wednesday during the second day of an appeal by the publisher of the Mail On Sunday against a High Court judge's decision that the publication of the letter was "unlawful".

The Duchess of Sussex had said she was the sole author of the letter Credit: Toby Melville/PA

Lawyers for Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) told senior judges on Tuesday that they want to rely on a recent witness statement made by Mr Knauf in their legal bid to overturn the ruling.

In his statement, Mr Knauf said the duchess had "lost confidence that the privacy of her communication with her father would be respected by him" as a result of his "increasing co-operation with reporters and photographers".

He said that, in a series of text messages sent to him by Meghan, she had written that the "catalyst" for writing the letter to Mr Markle, 77, was "seeing how much pain this is causing H".

Listen to the latest episode of The Royal Rota podcast

Mr Knauf also said the duchess told him she was writing the letter "in part to allow the duke to demonstrate to his family that some action was being taken by the couple to stop Mr Markle from continuing to engage with the media".

He said the texts included an early draft of the letter and that Meghan had written: "Obviously everything I have drafted is with the understanding that it could be leaked so I have been meticulous in my word choice, but please do let me know if anything stands out for you as a liability."

Meghan married Prince Harry (right) in 2018. Credit: Simon Dawson/PA

He added: "On the specific issue of the letter, the duchess indicated in messages to me that she recognised that it was possible that Mr Markle would make the letter public.

"She wanted to write a letter rather than an email or text message - other options she had considered and discussed with senior Royal Household staff - as a letter could not be forwarded or cut and pasted to only share one small portion.

"As part of a series of messages on 24 August 2018, she explained that she had given careful thought to how to prevent the letter being leaked in part or in a misleading way.

"In the event that it was leaked she wanted the full narrative as set out in the letter to be understood and shared. She said she had 'toiled over every detail which could be manipulated'."

The Sussexes were interviewed by Oprah Winfrey in March this year, where the couple took aim at media coverage of them. Credit: Joe Pugliese/Harpo Productions

Andrew Caldecott QC, representing ANL, told the Court of Appeal: "The picture presented to the judge on behalf of the claimant ... was that this was an entirely private letter crafted for Mr Markle's eyes only."

The barrister said the High Court judge had clearly taken this into account during his ruling on privacy.

He later added: "The position we now have is a different position and a more nuanced one, that the letter was written and crafted with readership in mind, and indeed she was happy for the public to read it if Mr Markle were to leak it."

Meghan's lawyers are opposing the appeal and ANL's bid for the Court of Appeal to take Mr Knauf's evidence into consideration as part of the challenge, and the duchess has provided her own statement in response.

In it, she said she had decided to write the letter after discussions with unnamed senior members of the royal family, which Mr Knauf was not privy to. She said she did not think her father would leak the letter, as it would show him in a "bad light".

The Sussexes visited the UN General Assembly in September, where they urged world leaders to distribute vaccines to poorer countries. Credit: AP

Rebutting Mr Knauf's evidence, she said: "The proposition that saying that I recognised that it was possible that my father would leak the letter, albeit unlikely, is the same as saying that I thought it likely that he would do so is, I would suggest, absurd."

Meghan also said she was "eager to please" the royal family and was "especially sensitive" to their concerns about her father's "public attacks" on them.

She added: "It is correct that, as I said in my texts to Mr Knauf, the situation was putting significant pressure on my husband, both externally and by his family, and I felt strongly that I needed to do something about it.

"I felt that, even if my attempt to stop my father talking to the media failed, at least my husband would be able to say to his family that I had done everything I could to stop it", she said.

The duchess also said the letter was "the only viable option" for communicating with her father, which would not have been the case before the "media intrusion" into their relationship.

The statements were disclosed to the press following representations to the court by the PA news agency.