Duchess of Sussex aide came forward in privacy case after ‘regretting’ not speaking out sooner

The Duchess of Sussex’s most trusted aide came forward to give evidence in a Court of Appeal case after a one-year campaign to persuade him having “regretted” failing to speak out sooner, the court heard on Thursday.

Jason Knauf, the Sussexes’ former communications secretary, provided a written statement to the court detailing emails and text message exchanges which showed the Duchess had authorised collaboration with the authors of her biography.

They revealed the Duchess telling him that “obviously everything I’ve drafted is with the understanding that it could be leaked”, and sharing her view that if Thomas Markle took the decision to share it, “at least the world will know the truth”. 

The emails provided by Mr Knauf led the Duchess to apologise to the Court of Appeal for failing to remember the exchange, in which she gave written authorisation for him to brief the authors of Finding Freedom.

They have been the key part of the Mail on Sunday’s campaign to overturn a summary judgment that it unlawfully breached the Duchess’s privacy, copyright and data protection by publishing extracts from the letter to her father.

The Court of Appeal is currently hearing arguments that the case should instead be heard at trial. The Mail on Sunday argues that Mr Knauf’s new evidence should be admitted.

Profile: Jason Knauf

A witness statement from Keith Mathieson, the Mail on Sunday’s lawyer, has now revealed how Mr Knauf resisted having any part in the legal proceedings for a year before “regretting” his decision.

Saying he first approached Mr Knauf in September last year, and tried again without success on numerous occasions, it was not until July 2021 that he eventually provided a written statement, insisting it was from a “position of neutrality” and covering only the relevant facts.

Mr Mathieson said he had approached Mr Knauf again in July, having “received information from a confidential source to the effect that Mr Knauf now regretted not providing a witness statement to us”.

“It did indeed turn out that, since the summary judgment had deprived Mr Knauf of the opportunity to provide evidence at a trial, he now wished to provide a witness statement to the parties so that his evidence could be considered as part of the appeal,” he said.

He went on to explain that it had been impossible to convince Mr Knauf, through his lawyers, to provide testimony before then.

At the time, it was considered likely that Mr Knauf and his former colleagues, including other press secretaries and a private secretary who had worked for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex at the relevant time, would eventually be called to give evidence at trial. 

Instead, the Duchess successfully applied for a summary judgment and, in Feb 2021, Lord Justice Warby ruled that the Mail on Sunday was unlawful in its actions.

Profile: Lord Justice Warby

The decision meant that no arguments were heard at full trial, and no witnesses were heard in the High Court.

A month later, a bullying complaint made against the Duchess, filed by Mr Knauf during his time at Kensington Palace and concerning two different members of staff, came to light in a newspaper.

In March, the Duchess took part in a bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey, in which she made revelations about her own suicidal thoughts, and serious claims about racism from a member of the Royal family.

In July, Prince Harry announced he would be writing his own version of the events of his life in an autobiography.

In a statement dated Sep 21 2021, Mr Knauf said: “I consider it the right thing to do to set out information that I am advised may be relevant to the court’s considerations.

“I have adopted a position of neutrality throughout, offering to provide information that I am advised is relevant to both parties. This has been a difficult and time-consuming process that I have not sought a role in.”

The Duchess of Sussex described Mr Knauf as a trusted adviser, and used elements from their email and text exchanges in her own witness statement.

The Court of Appeal on Thursday heard closing arguments, as the Duchess’s legal team reiterated her right to privacy and copyright over the handwritten letter.

Andrew Caldecott QC, representing ANL, argued there was a public interest in correcting “nasty and untrue” allegations about Mr Markle in a People Magazine article, which it claims put a “wholly misleading gloss” on the contents of the letter.

“Either we believe in freedom of expression or we don’t,” he told judges. “Thomas Markle has been royally attacked in the People magazine… and this is his reply.”

Justin Rushbrooke QC, on behalf of the Duchess, argued the new texts and emails did not change the case, showing that his client considered the letter confidential and did not provide any details on it to the authors of Finding Freedom.

The Court of Appeal judges on Thursday night said they will give their decision in writing at a later date.

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