Meghan tries to stop Mail on Sunday from naming five of her friends in court battle

9 July 2020, 08:54 | Updated: 9 July 2020, 17:51

The Duchess of Sussex has applied to the High Court to stop The Mail and Mail on Sunday from being able to reveal the names of five of her friends in her ongoing lawsuit against the papers' publisher, according to a source close to Meghan.

The women's names were given to the judge and to the Mail for its defence, confidentially, by the duchess last week as part of the legal proceedings, the source said, claiming the threat to identify them was "an attempt to intimidate the duchess and her friends".

As part of today's court filing, the Duchess of Sussex provided a witness statement in which she accused the Mail on Sunday of "playing a media game with real lives".

"Each of these women is a private citizen, young mother, and each has a basic right to privacy," she said, claiming the threat to expose them was "for no reason other than clickbait and commercial gain".

She said the move was "vicious" and one that "poses a threat to their emotional and mental wellbeing".

The duchess is suing ANL, which also owns MailOnline and the Daily Mail, over a Mail on Sunday article that reproduced sections of a handwritten note she sent to her estranged father Thomas Markle, 75, in August 2018.

Lawyers for the duchess claim the story breached her privacy.

Associated Newspapers claims it only included the letter because it had already been referenced by Meghan's friends in an interview with People magazine in the US.

The duchess identifies the five friends who gave the People interview, but refers to them only as friends A, B, C, D and E, and denies she authorised them to do it.

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In the article, published in February last year, they spoke out against the bullying she said she has faced.

They could be called to testify if the case goes to trial, but no dates have been suggested for a potential hearing.

"These five women are not on trial, and nor am I," the duchess said in her statement. "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."

The paper said in a statement: "To set the record straight, 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.

"That is why we told the duchess's lawyers last week that the question of their confidentiality should be properly considered by the court."

Last week, Meghan claimed in court documents that she felt "unprotected" by the Royal Family while she was pregnant with Archie. She claimed the "institution" of the monarchy failed to protect her from "emotionally-distressing" articles about her.

Meghan comes out fighting for her friends

Analysis by Sky's royal correspondent Rhiannon Mills

Meghan has come out fighting for her friends, and their privacy, after the Mail on Sunday and Associated Newspapers said there is no reason why their identities should be kept secret.

They were given to the newspapers' lawyers as part of a confidential file.

Again Meghan's hatred of the paper is clear to see. She says they are "playing a media game with real lives".

You could argue it was inevitable that her friends would be dragged into this as soon as Meghan lodged her case. They were the first people to talk anonymously about that letter Meghan had written to her father, which is one of the reasons the newspaper gave for publishing it in the first place.

But as Meghan puts it "these five women are not on trial, nor am I".

It is highly unusual to see this kind of legal procedure play out so publicly during the very early stages of this kind of case, but it again shows neither side are showing any sign of backing down.