Damaging bullying claims are used ‘very casually’ over allegations Meghan Markle mistreated palace staff, duchess’s lawyer tells BBC’s Amol Rajan. Meghan Markle’s lawyer has claimed in a BBC podcast that allegations of bullying are used ‘very casually’ in response to claims that the Duchess of Sussex mistreated palace staff.
Solicitor Jenny Afia, of law firm Schillings, said that the word ‘bullying’ was a ‘very, very damaging term… particularly for career women’, and said the Duchess ‘absolutely denies’ ever doing this. She spoke out in a new podcast series with BBC journalist Amol Rajan based on his controversial documentary examining the relationship between the royal households and the media which aired last November.
Palace aides announced in March last year that they were launching an internal inquiry into claims that Meghan’s behaviour drove two personal assistants out of the household and ‘undermined the confidence’ of a third. Staff were said to have been left in tears and feeling ‘traumatised’. But, speaking with the Duchess’s express permission, Miss Afia denied that Meghan was a bully and pointed out that the term is ‘used very freely’.
Miss Afia told the podcast which came out yesterday, called Harry, Meghan and the Media: ‘I think the first thing is to be really clear about what bullying is because the term gets used very, very casually. ‘My daughter called me a bully last week when I asked her to brush her teeth – she’s seven years old. So the term is used very freely and it’s a very, very damaging term as we know, particularly I think for career women.’
She added: ‘What bullying actually means is improperly using power repeatedly and deliberately to hurt someone, physically or emotionally. The Duchess of Sussex absolutely denies ever doing that. ‘Knowing her as I do I can’t believe she would ever do that. I wasn’t there at the time but it doesn’t match my experience of her at all and I’ve seen her at very, very stressful times.
‘That story is absolutely untrue that she is a bully. That said, she wouldn’t want to negate anyone’s personal experiences.’The Daily Mail revealed last month that the Buckingham Palace inquiry into the bullying allegations had only interviewed ‘a tiny handful’ of people who worked for her.
The revelation prompted fears that the investigation, set up ten months ago, was being ‘kicked into the long grass’. Mr Rajan’s podcast was said to have been delayed after the documentary in November amid tensions about how the royals would react to the show.
The BBC had put a two-minute trailer for the new podcast onto its BBC Sounds audio platform in November, with the first episodes due to be available later that month and the following episodes coming weekly. But the corporation later decided it would be released as a boxset when it was ready. Palace aides announced in March 2021 that they were launching an internal inquiry into claims about Meghan’s behaviour.
The royal household subsequently employed a third-party law firm to probe the claims, paid for by the family privately, in a move that some predicted could increase tensions between Harry and Meghan and ‘the institution’. The allegations, first reported by The Times, are strongly denied by the duchess, whose lawyers described them at the time as a ‘calculated smear campaign’.
But the Daily Mail then established in December that only a small number of royal employees – both past and present – had actually been spoken to. These are likely to have included the two PAs, another staff member and possibly Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, who was then working as Prince William’s private secretary.
Mr Case was sent an email in October 2018 by Kensington Palace’s communications secretary, Jason Knauf, raising concern about Meghan’s behaviour and trying to get protection for the staff he believed were being targeted.
The Sussexes would, on average, have had around 15 employees working for them at any one time – with up to 25 over the course of Meghan’s brief time in the Royal Family between 2017 and 2020.
But there has been such a wall of silence around the entire probe, on the orders of the Queen’s ultra-cautious private secretary Sir Edward Young, that no one within the household was told whether it was even still ongoing.
Part of the problem has been that the Palace has never before had to deal with an official bullying complaint against a member of the royal family – effectively an employer – and so has no precedent on which to act.
And with such a narrow scope of inquiry, sources have asked what the investigation will actually achieve. One told the Mail last month: ‘I think they [the Palace] are slightly caught between a rock and a hard place on this…
‘There are obviously serious questions to be asked as to how the original complaints about bullying made against the duchess were handled internally.’
They added: ‘From what anyone hears, interviews have only taken place with a handful of people. It’s been far from comprehensive.’ Buckingham Palace refused to comment on any aspect of the investigation last month. It had previously said that the inquiry should ‘not be played out in public’ and would ‘take as long as it will take’.
The Sussexes were not expected to be invited to take part in the probe – despite having written to the Palace about it. Appearing on the BBC documentary last year, Ms Afia said she believed there were ‘massive inaccuracies’ in the claims.
Last month MailOnline revealed how Mr Rajan, who presented The Princes And The Press, once criticised the BBC’s ‘utterly relentless, spirit-crushing monarchist propaganda’ and joked about ‘throwing a brick’ at Prince William and Kate.
He also previously condemned Prince Charles for ‘not being bright enough’ and said Philip ‘for all his faults, is also c**p at doing a tie knot’. Mr Rajan slammed ‘sycophantic and shameless monarchist propaganda’, said the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge ‘s titles were ‘absurd’, and criticised Kate during her wedding for her ‘false royal wave’ which was ‘desperately sad’.
Mr Rajan posted around 20 critical tweets about the royals over a period between March 2010 and January 2013 when he was working for The Independent newspaper, but before being appointed editor in June 2013.
The BBC faced intense criticism over its handling of Mr Rajan’s two-part documentary, which drew unprecedented censure from Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Kensington Palace and bias accusations.
The tweets emerged after Mr Rajan apologised on Twitter for describing the public role of William and Kate as a ‘total fraud’ and calling Philip a ‘racist buffoon’ in articles written in 2012 for The Independent.
Mr Rajan tweeted at the time: ‘In reference to very reasonable questions about some foolish commentary from a former life, I want to say I deeply regret it.’I wrote things that were rude and immature and I look back on them now with real embarrassment, and ask myself what I was thinking, frankly…’MailOnline then sent all of Rajan’s old tweets to the BBC’s press office, which said he wanted to make clear that his tweet apology ‘applies to all commentary – including tweets’.
The royal households believed the documentary contained a slew of unsubstantiated and categorically inaccurate accusations about collusion with the media, particularly in connection with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex during the tumultuous period of their decision to quit royal duties, dubbed ‘Megxit’.
The palaces were also said to be angered at the way many of the assertions made in the documentary aired on prime-time TV were permitted to go unquestioned by Mr Rajan, the BBC’s media editor. Critics said the series failed to challenge allegations made by supporters of the Sussexes, including Ms Afia.
Prince William and Kate were later said to have dropped the BBC for their Christmas special after The Princes and the Press aired on Monday night. The Christmas charity fundraiser, hosted by the Duchess with William watching on at Westminster Abbey, was instead aired by ITV on Christmas Eve.