Buckingham Palace will bring in an external independent legal firm to carry out an investigation into claims that the Duchess of Sussex bullied royal staff, reports say.
In an escalation of the standoff between the two parties, Meghan Markle has written to the Palace demanding to see documents, emails or text messages relating to the bullying complaint against her, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
But in an unprecedented move that will no doubt increase tensions further, royal staff have decided a third party should take the reins of the investigation, rather than the in-house inquiry first announced, according to The Sunday Times.
A senior Palace aide had accused Meghan of ‘unacceptable behaviour’ towards two personal assistants and undermining the confidence of a third, leading to the investigation which will be given to a legal firm.
Former and current royal aides who were blocked from giving evidence in court during Meghan’s recent legal privacy battle are expected to speak to the inquiry.
But in a clear indication that the Duchess is preparing to fight back against what she has termed ‘a smear campaign’, a senior Palace source confirmed that her office had ‘written to request the evidence’.
In response, the Queen has passed the request to the Prince of Wales, whose closest aides are now conducting a search of files.
Meanwhile, it emerged on Saturday night that William and Harry had ‘been in contact’ for the first time since last Sunday’s explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey, the Sunday Times reported.
The interview saw the Duke and Duchess of Sussex make shockwaves with accusations of racism against ‘The Firm’.
The Duchess of Sussex has written to Buckingham Palace demanding to see any documents relating to the bullying complaint against her
February saw two senior members of the royal staff claim they were bullied by Meghan, with a third saying they had been personally ‘humiliated’ and claimed two members of staff had been bullied.
Meghan has denied the accusations.
However, according to a royal source speaking to The Times: ‘The actual worst incidences haven’t come out. There are some harrowing stories to tell.’
‘There’s a lot that could come out in the wash that hasn’t been told,’ another source told the newspaper.
The Sussexes are not expected to be invited to take part in the investigation despite having written to Buckingham Palace about it, a decision that could widen the rift between the Royal Family and couple further.
News that Meghan is gearing up for a battle with the Palace to defend her reputation comes as:
- The Queen, 94, will go ahead with planned engagements this week to continue the ‘business as usual’ approach taken since the Duke and Duchess of Sussex gave their bombshell interview to Oprah Winfrey;
- Meghan’s friend Janina Gavankar joined the fightback by alleging that one of the PAs had been fired for ‘gross misconduct’ and did not leave because of bullying;
- Omid Scobie, the co-author of the Sussexes’ biography Finding Freedom, said he had seen an email from Meghan asking staff to correct a story that she had made the Duchess of Cambridge cry;
- Harry and Meghan’s Archewell Foundation announced it would be supporting several charities including Mind, the mental health charity, Colour of Change, an American civil rights organisation, and PressPad, which seeks to improve diversity in the media;
- It emerged in a former post on Meghan’s blog The Tig that she knew all about the ‘pomp and circumstance surrounding the Royal Wedding and endless conversation about Princess Kate’ – seeming to contradict her claim that she had little knowledge of the Royal Family before she met Harry;
- The Palace said issues of race that emerged in Harry and Meghan’s interview – particularly the suggestion that a member of the family raised questions and concerns about the colour of their unborn son’s skin – would be taken seriously and addressed privately.
Allegations of Meghan’s bullying behaviour has drawn fury from the Sussexes.
The accusation first came to light earlier this month when an email sent by Jason Knauf, the couple’s then press secretary, was leaked to The Times newspaper.
The Queen and Prince Charles attending the 2019 Braemar Highland Games
Written in October 2018 when the Sussexes were still living at Kensington Palace, Mr Knauf wrote: ‘I am very concerned that the Duchess was able to bully two PAs out of the household in the past year. The treatment of X [Name redacted] was totally unacceptable.
‘The Duchess seems intent on always having someone in her sights. She is bullying Y and seeking to undermine her confidence. We have had report after report from people who have witnessed unacceptable behaviour towards Y.’
The email was sent to Simon Case, then the Duke of Cambridge’s private secretary and now the Cabinet Secretary, after Mr Knauf’s conversations with Samantha Carruthers, the head of HR at the Palace.
In his email, Mr Knauf said Ms Carruthers had ‘agreed with me on all counts that the situation was very serious’.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex during their bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey
He added: ‘I remain concerned that nothing will be done.’
Buckingham Palace has said it is ‘clearly very concerned’ about the allegations, adding: ‘Members of staff involved at the time, including those who have left the household, will be invited to participate to see if lessons can be learned.’
But the Duchess’s spokesman hit back saying she ‘is saddened by this latest attack on her character, particularly as someone who has been the target of bullying herself and is deeply committed to supporting those who have experienced pain and trauma’.
The Palace had hoped that any investigation would be a private matter, but that looks less likely now that friends of the Duchess have seemingly been sanctioned to defend Meghan in public.
Buckingham Palace declined to comment.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex did not respond to a request to comment.