United Kingdom

Meghan Markle's palace PR chief 'led extensive efforts' to defend her reputation

The Duchess of Sussex's former communications secretary 'led extensive efforts' to defend her reputation, his lawyers have said - despite Meghan Markle's previous claims that she felt 'unprotected' by the Royal Family. 

Jason Knauf 'repeatedly' spoke to Meghan's estranged father Thomas Markle and directly contacted media organisations to 'object to intrusions into Mr Markle's privacy' from 2016, his lawyers said in a letter last month.

Mr Knauf also advised that 'a reference to Mr Markle's ill-health be included' in a letter sent by the Duchess to her father in August 2018, which his solicitors described as 'only a very minor suggestion'.

But Mr Knauf 'did not suggest any specific wording' and 'did not draft, and has never claimed to have drafted, any parts of' the letter to Mr Markle, his lawyers Addleshaw Goddard said in a letter to the Mail on Sunday's legal team.

It comes despite court documents submitted by Meghan's legal team in July last year stating that she felt 'unprotected' by the Royal Family from claims made in UK newspapers about her while she was pregnant.

In March, Meghan also told Oprah Winfrey that the palace did not protect her and 'were willing to lie' to protect other royals. Oprah asked her: 'Were you silent, or were you silenced?' - and Meghan replied: 'The latter'.

Meghan said during the interview shown on March 7: 'It was only once we were married and everything started to really worsen that I came to understand that, not only was I not being protected, but that they were willing to lie to protect other members of the family. They were not willing to tell the truth to protect myself and my husband.'

Mr Knauf now works as the chief executive of the Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Meghan, 39, sued Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), which is also the publisher of MailOnline, over a series of articles which reproduced parts of a 'personal and private' letter to Mr Markle, 76.

The Duchess of Sussex's former communications secretary Jason Knauf (pictured) 'led extensive efforts' to defend her reputation, according to a letter sent to the Mail On Sunday's lawyers

In February, the High Court granted Meghan summary judgment in relation to her privacy claim, meaning she won that part of the case without having to go to trial, as well as most of her copyright claim.

This week, Lord Justice Warby also granted summary judgment in relation to the remaining parts of the duchess's copyright claim.

ANL previously said it believed Mr Knauf was a co-author of the letter and the publisher argued that meant that the letter belonged to the Crown.

But lawyers acting on behalf of the Queen said any copyright in the letter does not belong to the Crown, the High Court heard on Wednesday.

Solicitors representing 'the Keeper of the Privy Purse, acting on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen' told Meghan's solicitors they 'did not consider the Crown to be the copyright owner'.

Mr Knauf 'emphatically' denied being a co-author, the court was told, with his lawyers telling ANL 'it has never been his belief that he was an author'. 

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex speak to Oprah Winfrey in an interview first aired on March 7 on CBS in the US

In the letter to ANL's solicitors, released to the media in full on Thursday, Mr Knauf's lawyers said: 'Mr Knauf did not draft, and has never claimed to have drafted, any parts of the electronic draft or the letter and would never have asserted copyright over any of their content.

'In our client's view, it was the duchess's letter alone. From 2016, Mr Knauf led extensive efforts to protect the privacy and reputation of the duchess and, as and when directed by her, the privacy of her parents.

'This included drafting a press statement in November 2016, issued in his own name, condemning racist and sexist coverage of Ms Markle, as she then was, and other regular interventions - directly to media and through the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) - to request privacy both for her and for her parents.'

Mr Knauf was 'involved in providing advice and offering support with a view to protecting her father from media intrusion', including 'many conversations with Mr Markle and a number of interventions, through Ipso and directly with publications, to object to intrusions into Mr Markle's privacy', the letter said.

This support continued 'even after the Mail On Sunday reported that Mr Markle had allegedly been co-operating with press photographers' shortly before the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's wedding, the letter added.

'Mr Knauf and his colleagues made significant efforts over many months to protect Mr Markle and to object to intrusions into his privacy, in addition to the steps that were regularly taken to object to coverage of the duchess herself, where this was perceived to be unfair or untrue,' it continued. 

Mr Knauf 'repeatedly' spoke to Meghan's estranged father Thomas Markle (pictured together), a letter has claimed

Addleshaw Goddard told ANL that Meghan sent Mr Knauf 'a series of text messages in August 2018' about a draft of the letter to her father, which she composed on her mobile phone before transcribing it by hand.

Their letter added: 'Given that Mr Knauf was a trusted adviser who had spoken to Mr Markle repeatedly and supported the duchess by trying to protect her father from media intrusion, there was nothing unusual about her asking for his opinion on the electronic draft.

'Mr Knauf made only a very minor suggestion on the text of the letter, namely that a reference to Mr Markle's ill-health be included.

'This advice was accepted, but Mr Knauf did not suggest any specific wording.'

Ian Mill QC, representing the duchess, told the High Court on Wednesday: 'This unequivocal statement of Mr Knauf's position also gives the lie to the defendant's inferential case, in its defence to both the privacy and copyright claims, that the claimant considered using the letter 'as part of a media strategy'.'

In February, Lord Justice Warby said ANL's publication of Meghan's letter to her father was 'manifestly excessive and hence unlawful'.

He said: 'It was, in short, a personal and private letter. 

Lord Justice Warby (shown above in a court sketch from March) said Associated Newspapers Limited's publication of Meghan's letter to her father was 'manifestly excessive and hence unlawful'

'The majority of what was published was about the claimant's own behaviour, her feelings of anguish about her father's behaviour, as she saw it, and the resulting rift between them.

'These are inherently private and personal matters.'

The judge said 'the only tenable justification for any such interference was to correct some inaccuracies about the letter', contained in an article in People magazine, published days before ANL's five articles, which featured an interview with five friends of Meghan.

But Lord Justice Warby added: 'The inescapable conclusion is that, save to the very limited extent I have identified, the disclosures made were not a necessary or proportionate means of serving that purpose.

'For the most part they did not serve that purpose at all. Taken as a whole, the disclosures were manifestly excessive and hence unlawful.'

In March, the publisher was ordered to print a statement on the front page of the Mail On Sunday and a notice on page three of the paper stating it 'infringed her copyright' by publishing parts of the letter to Mr Markle.

But the front-page statement about Meghan's victory in her copyright claim is on hold, to allow ANL time to seek permission to appeal. 

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