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UK's Meghan did not cooperate with biography, lawyers tell court

LONDON (Reuters) - Lawyers for Meghan, the wife of Britain’s Prince Harry, said on Monday a claim by a tabloid paper she is suing for invasion of privacy that the royal couple cooperated with a recent book about them was “manifestly false”.

FILE PHOTO: Copies of 'Finding Freedom', an unofficial biography on Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, are seen on display at a Waterstones bookshop in London, Britain August 12, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

Meghan, officially titled the Duchess of Sussex, is suing publisher Associated Newspapers over articles the Mail on Sunday printed last year that included parts of a handwritten letter she sent to her estranged father, Thomas Markle, in August 2018.

At a hearing at London’s High Court on Monday, lawyers for the Mail said “Finding Freedom”, a biography of Harry, 36, and Meghan, 39, published in August, appeared to have been written with the extensive cooperation of the duchess.

They were seeking to amend their case ahead of a trial due to start in January, arguing that Meghan’s alleged cooperation with the book’s authors showed she intended some private details to be made public, including the contents of the letter.

Antony White, the paper’s lawyer, told the court some personal information could only have come from the couple themselves or close friends authorised to disclose it.

The book “gives every appearance of having been written with their extensive cooperation”, he said in a written submission.

Meghan’s lawyer Justin Rushbrooke said there was no evidence for the Mail’s argument which he said was based on assertions which were “manifestly false”.

“What the defendant is saying is we don’t have any evidence for this case ... we are relying on inference. Inference is not evidence,” he said.

One of the book’s authors, Omid Scobie, also gave a witness statement in support of Meghan in which he describes the book as “an independent and unauthorised project”.

“Any suggestion that the Duke and Duchess collaborated on the book is false,” Scobie said. “They did not authorise the book and have never been interviewed for it.”

White said Scobie’s evidence “cries out for rigorous testing under cross-examination”.

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The paper argues that its publication of her letter to her father in Feb. 2019 was justified by Meghan’s own “media fightback”, which consisted of anonymous interviews given on her behalf by five of her friends to the U.S. magazine People.

The court was told the Mail’s case was that Meghan had used her friends to influence the media and encouraged them to act as her PR agents.

Meghan denies that her friends were acting on her behalf.

White argued that if she had not cooperated with the book or allowed her friends to speak to its authors, it was “inevitable” that Meghan would have sued, which she was not doing, or stated that the contents were invented.

Rushbrooke dismissed this as a “flimsy leap”.

The trial is scheduled to start on Jan. 11 and to last between seven and 10 days. At a hearing on Monday, the court was told there would be seven witnesses, of whom four will appear on behalf of Meghan.

Meghan’s legal team has budgeted just under 1.8 million pounds ($2.3 million) for the case, while the Mail’s costs are estimated at more than 1.2 million pounds. The judge, Francesca Kaye, said both amounts seemed “dispropionate” as it was not a “high value” claim or complex case, and was essentially a personal dispute.

She will give her ruling on whether the Mail can amend its case at a later date.

Reporting by Michael Holden, editing by Estelle Shirbon, Mike Collett-White and Philippa Fletcher

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