The identities of five friends of the Duchess of Sussex who gave an anonymous interview to a US magazine will not be revealed, the High Court has ruled.
Judge Mark Warby said the friends’ identities should be protected “for the time being at least”, after the duchess put in a legal bid to ensure their names were not revealed.
The identity of the friends was a side issue in Meghan’s legal fight against Associated Newspapers (ANL), which publishes The Mail On Sunday and MailOnline, over the publication of extracts from a “private and confidential” letter she sent to her estranged father in 2018.
ANL claims it included the handwritten letter in five articles – two in The Mail On Sunday and three on MailOnline – because it had already been referenced by Meghan’s friends in an interview with People magazine.
In the article published last year, the friends spoke out about bullying against Meghan.
One of the friends had told the magazine: “She’s like ‘Dad, I’m so heartbroken. I love you. I have one father. Please stop victimising me through the media so we can repair our relationship.'”
The names of the five women were given confidentially to the judge and the newspapers for their defence earlier this month.
The duchess says her friends gave the interview without her knowledge, but ANL said she “caused or permitted” the article to be published.
Associated Newspapers said in a defence court document: “Information in the People interview about the claimant’s relationship and dealings with her father, including the existence of the letter and a description of its contents and the claimant’s father’s letter in response, could only have come (directly or indirectly) from the claimant.”
It also said Meghan’s father, Thomas Markle, had revealed the letter to correct the “false” impression her friends had given about his actions in their interview.
ANL’s legal team had resisted Meghan’s application.
Meghan’s lawyers had argued that the friends – referred to as A to E – have a right to remain anonymous as both confidential journalistic sources and under their own privacy rights.
In a witness statement, Meghan said the women “made a choice on their own to speak anonymously with a US media outlet more than a year ago, to defend me from the bullying behaviour of Britain’s tabloid media”.
“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”.
Justin Rushbrooke QC, representing the duchess, said revealing their identities would be an “unacceptably high price” for Meghan bringing proceedings against ANL.
The issue was part of a preliminary hearing and the full trial is not expected until next year.
Analysis: This is not the end – Meghan may have to stand up for her friends again
By Rhiannon Mills, royal correspondent
Meghan has won, but temporarily.
Mr Justice Warby listened to her legal team argue that her friends have a basic right to privacy and putting their names into the public domain would leave them exposed and used as clickbait by publications around the world.
As a result, the judge agreed to grant Meghan the protection she sought for her five friends, who had given an interview to People magazine to stand up for her last year when they felt she was being targeted by the tabloid press.
But this is not the end. We are still in the very early stages of this case.
No trial date has been set, no witnesses chosen.
Mr Justice Warby made it clear that as the case rolls on, the need for anonymity may change or fall away.
Meghan may have to stand up for her friends again if they decide to give evidence and come out to fight in her corner.