The Duchess of Sussex is suing a picture agency over claims her privacy was breached when she was “papped” on a walk with son Archie and her dogs.
Meghan has launched legal action against Splash News over the pictures, taken in January as she strolled in the woods in Vancouver with eight-month-old Archie strapped to her chest.
The High Court in London heard this afternoon the Duchess claims her and her son’s privacy was invaded during the incident and data protection laws were broken when the images were sold on to British newspapers.
Setting out the basis of the claim, barrister Jonathan Barnes, representing Meghan and her son, told the hearing she denies suggestions that she agreed to the images being taken or “acquiesced” when she spotted Splash photographer Steve Dennett.
“They were papped in this location,” he said. “The photographs which are the first stage of the wrongful conduct we complain about took place in Vancouver.”
He said the Duchess argues they were on a “private recreational route” on Vancouver Island, close to the £10m mansion where they were staying.
“The day before, Mr Dennett was at the private home of the claimants, doing what might be colloquially known as casing their home, taking photos through the security fence,” said Mr Barnes.
“He wasn’t at the park by accident.”
Mr Barnes said the images were sold by Splash to Associated Newspapers and News Group, publishers of the Mail and The Sun, and within hours of being taken had appeared in the MailOnline under the headline “Meghan Markle beams as she takes her dogs for a walk with Archie in a baby carrier”.
“That conduct, which is essentially trading of private information or personal data, all took place here,” he said.
Lawyers for the Duchess sent a ‘cease and desist’ letter to Splash, but Mr Barnes said pleas to withdraw the pictures were ignored, sparking an application for the court for an injunction to stop the images being used again.
“These images about which objection is raised are still being syndicated, they could be bought and sold in this jurisdiction in two minutes time if necessary,” he said.
At today’s hearing, where details of the legal action emerged for the first time, a judge ruled the Duchess’ lawyers could serve court papers on the LA-based operation of Splash News.
The court heard the British arm of the agency has gone into administration during the pandemic, but Mr Barnes argued successfully that the American part of the agency could properly be sued in the English courts.
The photo agency was not represented today, but Mr Barnes said several points of a possible defence had already been raised by its solicitors in a letter sent in February.
He said it was suggested the Duchess and her son had “no reasonable expectation of privacy”, they may have agreed to the photos being taken, and the images were “in the public interest and public debate was being assisted by use of the photographs”.
The photos emerged during heated debate about the future of Prince Harry and his wife, in particular whether they were entitled to publicly-funded protection after stepping back from Royal duties.
The legal claim is being brought by the Duchess of Sussex and Archie, with both mother and father acting as litigation friends for their son.
Legal papers will now be served on Splash in the US, giving it a chance to file a defence to the privacy claim.