Prince Harry and Meghan Markle reacted with fury to bombshell claims in a British newspaper that she faced bullying complaints from royal staffers during her time in London.
The claims, blasted as a “calculated smear campaign” in an angry statement from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, came in a report by Britain’s Times newspaper on Wednesday (Australian time).
In an extraordinary escalation just days before the couple’s hotly anticipated tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey airs in the US, former Kensington Palace aides have gone to The Times with allegations from the months after the couple married in May 2018.
The Times reports that Jason Knauf, who was Harry and Meghan’s communication chief, emailed Simon Case, the then-private secretary to Prince William, in October 2018 outlining “very serious” concerns about how staff were being treated in the couples’ London home.
The complaint alleged that the duchess drove two personal assistants out of the household and undermined the confidence of a third employee.
Ms Case also forwarded the email to Samantha Carruthers, the head of human resources. She was based at Clarence House, the official residence of Prince Charles.
But Harry and Meghan’s lawyers have told The Times it was “being used by Buckingham Palace to peddle a wholly false narrative”.
“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,” the statement said.
“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.”
It said that Meghan was “saddened by this latest attack on her character, particularly as someone who has been the target of bullying herself”.
“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,” it said.
The rapid escalation in tensions came on the same day Meghan was awarded £450,000 ($A803,210) after she won a privacy claim against the Mail on Sunday, which had printed extracts of a letter she wrote to her father.
In February, a judge at London’s High Court ruled the tabloid had breached her privacy and infringed her copyright by publishing parts of the five-page letter to her father, Thomas Markle, who she fell out with on the eve of her wedding to Prince Harry.
Judge Mark Warby ruled in her favour without a trial, saying the articles were a clear breach of privacy. The paper had argued Meghan had intended the letter’s contents to become public and it formed part of a media strategy.
On Tuesday (local time), Judge Warby refused the paper permission to appeal that decision, saying he saw “no real prospect” that the Court of Appeal would see it differently.
However, the paper is able to apply directly to the court.
The court was told Meghan’s legal team was seeking more than £1.5 million in legal fees, a sum the paper described as “disproportionate”.
Judge Warby agreed to order interim costs of £450,000, but the final sum “may well be considerably more than that” after outstanding issues are resolved.
Meghan’s legal team also demanded the paper hand over any copies it had of the letter and asked the judge to order it to publish a statement on its front page stating she had won her case, with a notice also placed on the MailOnline’s home page for “not less than six months”.
Justice Warby said he would not make an order for the delivery or destruction of any copies of the letter yet.
Harry and Meghan’s two-hour interview with Winfrey airs in the US on Sunday (local time).