Meghan Markle Accuses U.K. Tabloid of 'Vicious' Move to Identify Friends Who Spoke with PEOPLE

"Each of these women is a private citizen, young mother, and each has a basic right to privacy," Meghan Markle says in a statement

Meghan Markle has moved to stop what she says is an attempt by a British newspaper from naming the five friends who spoke to PEOPLE magazine for a cover story last year.

The Duchess of Sussex's legal team has gone to court in the U.K. to halt what they claim is the Mail on Sunday’s move to unveil the sources. It is the latest act in Meghan's court battle with the newspaper and its publisher Associated Newspapers. She is suing them for running extracts of what she describes as a “private and confidential” letter sent to her father, Thomas Markle, in August 2018 — three months after her wedding to Prince Harry.

The letter was first referred to in February 2019 when five of Meghan’s close friends spoke to PEOPLE about the “global bullying” they said was aimed at her. The Mail on Sunday says that Meghan's father revealed the contents of the letter after a friend had told PEOPLE of its existence.

Meghan Markle
Meghan Markle. Karwai Tang/WireImage

In Thursday's strongly-worded witness statement in her application filed at the High Court in London, Meghan says, “Associated Newspapers, the owner of The Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday, is threatening to publish the names of five women—five private citizens—who 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 behavior of Britain’s tabloid media.”

The Duke And Duchess Of Sussex Visit Ireland
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. Gareth Fuller-Pool/Getty

“These five women are not on trial, and nor am I. 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.

“Each of these women is a private citizen, young mother, and each has a basic right to privacy. Both the Mail on Sunday and the court system have their names on a confidential schedule, but for the Mail on Sunday to expose them in the public domain for no reason other than clickbait and commercial gain is vicious and poses a threat to their emotional and mental wellbeing.

“The Mail on Sunday is playing a media game with real lives.

“I respectfully ask the court to treat this legal matter with the sensitivity it deserves, and to prevent the publisher of the Mail on Sunday from breaking precedent and abusing the legal process by identifying these anonymous individuals - a privilege that these newspapers in fact rely upon to protect their own unnamed sources."

The Duke & Duchess Of Sussex Attend 'Your Commonwealth' Youth Challenge Reception
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. Yui Mok - WPA Pool/Getty

Those close to the Sussex legal team say that they heard from Associated Newspapers’ lawyers on Monday, when they were put on notice of their claim that the information in Meghan’s confidential list of names should be “properly reportable by the media.”

They warned that if there was no response from Meghan’s lawyers by Thursday, then they would assume that the names of the women are no longer confidential.

Meghan’s legal team believes this was a clear threat that the media would publish the names — and they have submitted that opinion to the court today.

Meghan Markle
Meghan Markle addressing the Immaculate Heart Class of 2020. Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex

Later on Thursday morning, a Mail on Sunday spokesman issued a statement saying that they "had absolutely no intention of publishing the identities of the five friends this weekend," ITV News reported.

"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."

A source close to Meghan says the names have already been provided to the judge and to the newspaper in confidence for its defense as part of the court process.

“We vehemently believe that the Mail’s threat to publish has nothing to do with the case, and is only being done so the Mail can target five innocent women through the pages of its newspapers and its website,” the source adds.

Can't get enough of PEOPLE's Royals coverage? Sign up for our free Royals newsletter to get the latest updates on Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle and more!

“Lawyers for the Mail on Sunday brazenly challenged the Duchess to seek further court action to try to stop them, saying that if she didn’t, they would publish. We have therefore submitted an application to ask the court to ensure that the names contained in the confidential filing, are kept confidential," the source continues.

“We argue that it is an attempt to intimidate The Duchess and her friends, in her ongoing lawsuit against their newspaper’s unlawful behavior.”

Related Articles