Meghan Markle has filed an application to stop Associated Newspapers from publicly naming five women who defended the Duchess of Sussex during anonymous interviews with People.
The five women, who People described as Meghan's "close friends," spoke to the magazine in 2019. As one "longtime friend and former co-star" put it, they wanted to "stand up against the global bullying" and "speak the truth" about Meghan. Meghan has maintained that she was "unaware" of these friends' actions and that she was "not involved" in any way.
A source close to the Duchess said these names have already been confidentially provided to a judge and to the Mail on Sunday for its defense in Meghan's ongoing legal battle against the publication and Associated Newspapers, which she's suing on the grounds of copyright infringement, breach of data protection and misuse of private information over the allegation the outlet unlawfully published her private letter to her father Thomas Markle. However, Meghan claimed Associated Newspapers is now threatening to publicly identify the five women.
"Associated Newspapers, the owner of The Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday, is threatening to publish the names of five women—five private citizens—who made a choice on their own to speak anonymously with a U.S. media outlet more than a year ago, to defend me from the bullying behavior of Britain's tabloid media," the Duchess of Sussex wrote in a witness statement obtained by E! News. "These five women are not on trial, and nor am I. The publisher of the Mail on Sunday is the one on trial. It is this publisher that acted unlawfully and is attempting to evade accountability; to create a circus and distract from the point of this case—that the Mail on Sunday unlawfully published my private letter."
Meghan goes on to describe each woman as "a private citizen" and "young mother" who "has a basic right to privacy."
"Both the Mail on Sunday and the court system have their names on a confidential schedule, but for the Mail on Sunday to expose them in the public domain for no reason other than clickbait and commercial gain is vicious and poses a threat to their emotional and mental wellbeing," she wrote. "The Mail on Sunday is playing a media game with real lives. I respectfully ask the court to treat this legal matter with the sensitivity it deserves, and to prevent the publisher of the Mail on Sunday from breaking precedent and abusing the legal process by identifying these anonymous individuals—a privilege that these newspapers in fact rely upon to protect their own unnamed sources."
According to The Telegraph, a judge is expected to determine whether Associated Newspapers will be prevented from publishing the names at a future hearing. The Telegraph, citing paperwork filed by the Duchess' legal team Schillings, reported Meghan's team is asking that the information contained in the "confidential schedule" previously submitted "must not be used by the Defendant for any purpose except for that of these proceedings (and expressly not for publication in its newspapers)." In addition, the documents reportedly stated that the women all have "small children who would be deeply affected by the unwanted presence of reporters/photographers at their homes and in public, and the effect this would have on their parents."
Per The Telegraph, the paperwork from Schillings also noted there's "huge" interest in the case and that it has "already had a significant impact on the private life of one of the Five Friends." In addition, the attention has reportedly led to the guessing of their identities.
"I am concerned that the publicity will intimidate one or more of the Five Friends and dissuade them from agreeing to give evidence in support of the Claimant's case at trial," the paperwork stated, per The Telegraph. "This would not be in the interests of justice and would give the Defendant an unfair advantage in this litigation."
In a statement to E! News, a Mail on Sunday spokesperson said it "had absolutely no intention of publishing the identities of the five friends this weekend."
"But their evidence is at the heart of the case and we see no reason why their identities should be kept secret," the statement continued. "That is why we told the Duchess's lawyers last week that the question of their confidentiality should be properly considered by the Court."
The Mail on Sunday also previously noted it "stands by the story it published" regarding the letter and that it will "be defending this case vigorously." In addition, it denied the allegation "that the Duchess' letter was edited in any way that changed its meaning."