Palace Launches Probe into Bullying Allegations Made by Staffers for Meghan Markle and Prince Harry
Buckingham Palace says they are "very concerned" by a new report that Meghan Markle faced a bullying complaint made by one of her close advisers during her time as a working royal — something her office has strongly refuted.
On Wednesday, the palace announced they will launch a probe into the allegations, which were reported by The Times in the U.K. last night.
"We are clearly very concerned about allegations in The Times following claims made by former staff of The Duke and Duchess of Sussex," the palace said. "Accordingly, our HR team will look into the circumstances outlined in the article. Members of staff involved at the time, including those who have left the Household, will be invited to participate to see if lessons can be learned."
The statement continued, "The Royal Household has had a Dignity at Work policy in place for a number of years and does not and will not tolerate bullying or harassment in the workplace."
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Buckingham Palace is not classifying the inquiry an "internal investigation," but rather an examination of the allegations and an opportunity for those involved to participate. The Sussexes themselves will not be part of the initial inquiry.
The Duchess of Sussex has denied the allegations. In a statement obtained by PEOPLE after The Times published their story on Tuesday night, a spokesperson for Meghan and Prince Harry said, "The Duchess is saddened by this latest attack on her character, particularly as someone who has been the target of bullying herself and is deeply committed to supporting those who have experienced pain and trauma. She is determined to continue her work building compassion around the world and will keep striving to set an example for doing what is right and doing what is good."
The complaint, which The Times reports was made in October 2018 by the couple's former communications secretary Jason Knauf, claimed that Meghan drove two personal assistants out of the household and undermined the confidence of a third staff member.
The Times says Knauf submitted the complaint in an effort to protect palace staffers who were allegedly bullied by the Duchess of Sussex, at times reduced to tears. One royal aide, who anticipated a confrontation with Meghan, is alleged to have told a colleague: "I can't stop shaking."
In the story published in The Times on Tuesday, a source says that Harry pleaded with Knauf not to pursue the HR complaint. According to The Times, lawyers for Meghan, 39, and Harry, 36, deny that any meeting took place or that the Duke of Sussex would have interfered with any staff matter.
Knauf reportedly sent an email to Simon Case, Prince William's private secretary at the time and now the cabinet secretary, after conversations with Samantha Carruthers, the head of HR. Case then forwarded it to Carruthers.
In his email, Knauf said Carruthers "agreed with me on all counts that the situation was very serious." He added: "I remain concerned that nothing will be done."
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A spokesperson for the Sussexes told The Times in a statement: "Let's just call this what it is — a calculated smear campaign based on misleading and harmful misinformation. We are disappointed to see this defamatory portrayal of The Duchess of Sussex given credibility by a media outlet. It's no coincidence that distorted several-year-old accusations aimed at undermining The Duchess are being briefed to the British media shortly before she and The Duke are due to speak openly and honestly about their experience of recent years."
In response to the legal letter to The Times which reportedly said the newspaper was being "being used by Buckingham Palace to peddle a wholly false narrative" before the Oprah Winfrey interview, a source tells PEOPLE, "It is unfair, untrue and disingenuous to say that the palace is coordinating this."
There "are far more important things we are focusing on," a source adds, referring to Prince Philip's illness and his ongoing care following a heart procedure, the calls that the Queen has been making about vaccinations and the ongoing business of state.
Apart from confirming that they didn't know about the Oprah interview before the news was broken, the palace hasn't commented on what is in the interview.
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The report comes five days before Meghan and Harry's interview with Oprah Winfrey is due to air on CBS. The interview is expected to cover Meghan's journey from stepping into life as a royal to marriage, motherhood, philanthropic work and facing intense public pressure. Harry will then join his wife to talk about their historic move to the United States.
In a preview of the interview, Winfrey alludes to an experience that was "almost unsurvivable," asking if there was "a breaking point."