If you’ve been paying attention to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex over the past two years, you know that the couple is highly litigious. They have sued or threatened to sue various news outlets and media organizations based on what they usually feel are slanderous, libelous, or private stories about themselves. They even went so far as to send a strongly worded letter on their behalf from Schillings, their UK law firm, to the BBC and other news organizations after the birth of their daughter, Lilibet Diana. (Just before this letter, the BBC had run a story with “sources from Buckingham Palace” confirming that neither Harry nor Meghan had asked Queen Elizabeth’s permission to use the name Lilibet for their daughter.)
So it doesn’t really come as a surprise that the online versions of two articles by Valentine Low of the Times have been slapped with the following disclaimer: “This article is the subject of a legal complaint by The Duchess of Sussex.”
The first story that now has this label is a story about William and Kate not wanting to discuss anything of substance with Harry after the funeral of Prince Philip, as they assumed that those details would be provided to Meghan and then leaked by a Sussex-friendly media outlet. You can read that story here.
The second article surrounds the reason Meghan left a hot and crowded market visit during a Royal tour of Fiji in 2018. Apparently the reason Meghan left the event early is that UN Women was hosting the event. Meghan felt the organization had “snubbed” her in 2015 by only making her a UN Women “Advocate”, rather than the more prestigious title of UN Women “Ambassador”. You can read that story here.
That Meghan would issue a legal complaint to a newspaper is in itself old hat at this point. However, there are some reasons why this particular complaint/set of complaints feels strange:
The complaint wasn’t publicized
I only learned of the legal advisory headings on these two articles from the Times because an eagle-eyed follower on Instagram saw them and passed them along to me (thank you!). Usually when the Sussexes want to make their legal intentions known, it’s a much bigger song and dance. There are harshly worded letters sent to media outlets, which are then published by the media outlets. Whether intentional or not, this usually adds fuel to the fire of the story.
I understand why Harry and Meghan have taken that approach – by making a splash and publicly going after newspapers and tabloids, they were sending a signal that publishing future news stories about them might not be worth it given the legal trouble that Harry and Meghan would surely put them through. But that strategy seems to have gone away (and it’s no wonder that it has – that strategy is what caused their lawsuit against Associated Newspapers to drag for 3+ years and produce dozens more stories based on the legal proceedings). This time, there was no formal statement from Harry and Meghan’s office. There was no leaked cease and desist letter from Schillings. It seems that maybe Harry and Meghan want to fight their battles in private rather than in public from now on.
Both articles centre around Robert Lacey’s revised book
It’s interesting that both Times articles that have been slapped with the legal disclaimer are about stories laid out in the revised version of Robert Lacey’s book Battle of Brothers, which was published late last month. It’s also interesting to note that direct excerpts from Lacey’s book were serialized in the Times, and yet they do not have the “subject to a legal complaint by the Duchess of Sussex” wording (yet). So why not? Were those excerpts not as inflammatory to Meghan? Were the stories written by Valentine Low much more inflammatory than the wording in the book (I highly doubt it)? Or is Lacey being subjected to a legal challenge by the Duchess of Sussex’s legal team currently, and isn’t able to provide public comment on it?
I unsuccessfully tried to contact Robert Lacey for an answer re: whether or not Meghan’s lawyers have been in touch regarding his book’s publication. Robert, if you’re reading this, you can contact me privately! firstname.lastname@example.org!
Low and Lacey probably have receipts
Even if Meghan’s lawyers decided on a quiet legal strategy regarding these articles (and possibly Lacey’s book), I don’t understand why they would choose to pursue it at all. This is because I believe both Valentine Low and Robert Lacey have full supporting evidence for what they wrote, otherwise it wouldn’t have passed the legal vetting required to be published in the Times or in a book.
Valentine Low has been a royal reporter for the Times for almost a decade. He understands how to write a story and that he can’t publish something unless he can back it up. Also, he is the person who wrote the explosive Times story revealing the bullying allegations against Meghan in Kensington Palace. In this fascinating Times podcast digging into the bullying allegations, Low explains that the Sussexes are very litigious and that he interacted with their legal team multiple times throughout the writing and publishing of the bullying allegations story. He understands that when you’re writing something about Meghan and/or Harry, you need receipts because it’s pretty likely that they will get lawyers involved. During the abovementioned podcast, Low says, “Everything that the Times wrote in that article [about the bullying allegations] is a fact. Everything has been checked and double-checked and, where, possible, sourced and double-sourced. It is all absolutely copper-bottomed and we stand by what I wrote.” Does that sound like a person who would risk writing and publishing a story without information to back up the claims in that story? And does the Times seem like an institution that wouldn’t have put stories about Meghan through a legal review before publishing? On both counts, I don’t think so.
Additionally, both of these Times stories are connected to anecdotes published in the revised edition of Lacey’s Battle of Brothers. In order to be published, there MUST have been some sort of legal review prior. Given Meghan and Harry’s propensity to send threatening legal letters at minimum and outright file lawsuits at maximum, Lacey must have proof for what he is claiming. I would be interested to know if he is currently the subject of any informal or formal legal action directed by the Sussexes, and whether that legal action would run parallel to or be fully connected to the legal actioned mentioned in the Times articles. I don’t know! If anyone has any information on this, I’d love to hear about it.