The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have begun the final day of their overseas tour as the Mail on Sunday says it will “vigorously” defend itself in a court case launched by the couple.
Prince Harry’s wife is suing the paper over a claim it unlawfully published a private letter Meghan sent to her father, Thomas Markle.
The duke said the legal action was in response to “relentless propaganda”.
A Mail on Sunday spokesman said the paper stood by the story it published.
Prince Harry said “positive” coverage of the couple’s tour of Africa had exposed the “double standards” of “this specific press pack that has vilified [Meghan] almost daily for the past nine months”.
The royal couple visited Tembisa township, near Johannesburg, to learn about a scheme to tackle youth unemployment, on the final day of their 10-day tour. They also met Nelson Mendela’s widow, Graca Machel.
Meanwhile law firm Schillings, acting for the duchess, filed a High Court claim against the paper and its parent company – Associated Newspapers – over the alleged misuse of private information, infringement of copyright and breach of the Data Protection Act 2018.
The duchess’s action comes after the Mail on Sunday published a handwritten letter she sent her father shortly after she and Prince Harry got married in 2018.
The paper is accused of an “intrusive and unlawful publication of a private letter” and of a campaign of publishing false and derogatory stories about the Duchess of Sussex.
Referring to his late mother Diana, Princess of Wales, Prince Harry said his “deepest fear is history repeating itself”.
In a lengthy personal statement on the couple’s official website, he said the “painful” impact of intrusive media coverage had driven him and his wife to take action.
Prince Harry said: “I lost my mother, and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.”
“I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditised to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person,” he added.
Diana was once described as the “most hunted person of the modern age”.
She died in a car crash in 1997 after being pursued through Paris by a pack of paparazzi journalists.
In a speech at the end of the visit to Tembisa, the prince reminisced about a visit to Africa in the months following his mother’s death.
“Ever since I came to this country as a young boy, trying to cope with something I could never possibly describe, Africa has held me in an embrace that I will never forget and feel incredibly fortunate for that,” he said.
“Every time I come here I know that I’m not alone. I always feel wherever I am on this continent that the community around me provides a life that is enriching and is rooted in the simplest things – connection, connection with others and the natural environment.”
Prince Harry said he wanted to teach his son Archie the lessons he had learned from Africa, including those about “community and friendship”.
Former Daily Mirror editor and Guardian columnist Roy Greenslade said the prince had taken a risk by attacking the press for the actions of one newspaper.
“The press – particularly the tabloid press – is far less powerful now than it was during his mother’s era,” he told Radio 4’s Today programme.
“Is he taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut here? I think he may well find that this is counter-productive.”
Women and families minister Liz Truss told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Emma Barnett she did not feel sorry for Meghan because “I believe that she is enjoying the role that she’s taken on” and everyone in a public position gets “a certain amount of flak”.
Ms Truss added she “firmly” believed in the protection of free speech.
The language is clearly Harry’s: an unrestrained expression of anger and pain aimed at the British tabloid media.
Did any of his advisers urge restraint? We simply don’t know. Judging by the length and intensity of the statement, Harry would have been in no mood to listen to any such cautionary advice.
Is it fair to castigate the entire British tabloid media off the back of one dispute with one newspaper over one story, however painful? That is a matter of individual opinion and clearly Harry – supported one assumes by Meghan – believes that it is.
The timing certainly is curious. They are concluding a visit to Southern Africa which by wide consent (much of it expressed in the tabloid media) has been a considerable success. It has lifted their reputation after a series of mis-steps involving private jets and expensive property renovations.
Now they have chosen to take one of the most powerful newspaper groups in Britain to court and launched this stinging assault on an entire section of the British media.
British tabloids are not afraid of a fight. They may well feel provoked by the language in this statement. Was it wise? We shall see.
It is not the first time members of the royal family have taken legal action against the press.
In 2017, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were awarded £92,000 (100,000 euros) in damages after French magazine Closer printed topless pictures of the duchess.
A French court ruled the images had been an invasion of the couple’s privacy.
If the case did reach the court, Prince Harry and Meghan might have to appear to give evidence, said media law expert David Banks.
He added that one of the drawbacks of of launching a privacy action meant that Meghan could face a “very uncomfortable” public exploration of her relationship with her father.
‘Lie after lie’
The new legal proceedings are being funded privately by the couple and any proceeds will be donated to an anti-bullying charity.
In his statement on Tuesday, Prince Harry said he and Meghan believed in “media freedom and objective, truthful reporting” as a “cornerstone of democracy”.
But he said his wife had become “one of the latest victims of a British tabloid press that wages campaigns against individuals with no thought to the consequences”.
Prince Harry said: “There is a human cost to this relentless propaganda, specifically when it is knowingly false and malicious, and though we have continued to put on a brave face – as so many of you can relate to – I cannot begin to describe how painful it has been.”
“They have been able to create lie after lie at her expense simply because she has not been visible while on maternity leave,” he said.
‘It is bullying’
The duke accused the paper of misleading readers when it published the private letter, by strategically omitting paragraphs, sentences and specific words “to mask the lies they had perpetrated for over a year”.
“Put simply, it is bullying, which scares and silences people. We all know this isn’t acceptable, at any level,” he said.
The Mail on Sunday spokesperson said: “We categorically deny that the duchess’s letter was edited in any way that changed its meaning.”