Duchess of Sussex hits back at 'smear campaign' after being accused of bullying Palace staff

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Victoria Ward
·5 min read
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The duchess drove two personal assistants out of the household, according to the claims - GETTY IMAGES
The duchess drove two personal assistants out of the household, according to the claims - GETTY IMAGES

The Duchess of Sussex has claimed she is a victim of a “smear campaign” over allegations that she faced several complaints of bullying from members of her staff.

She was accused of driving two personal assistants out of the household and undermining the confidence of a third employee during her time as working royal, The Times reported on Tuesday night.

The Duchess has hit back at the claims, with her aides describing them as a smear designed to undermine her ahead of the broadcast of the couple’s much anticipated interview with Oprah Winfrey.

In a legal letter to The Times the spokesman for the Sussexes said: “Let’s just call this what it is — a calculated smear campaign based on misleading and harmful misinformation. We are disappointed to see this defamatory portrayal of The Duchess of Sussex given credibility by a media outlet.”

The spokesman added: “It’s no coincidence that distorted several-year-old accusations aimed at undermining The Duchess are being briefed to the British media shortly before she and The Duke are due to speak openly and honestly about their experience of recent years.”

The reports come as tensions between the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and Buckingham Palace deepen.

A spokesman for the Sussexes told The Telegraph: "The Duchess 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.

"She is determined to continue her work building compassion around the world and will keep striving to set an example for doing what is right and doing what is good."

Jason Knauf, the couple's communications secretary at the time, submitted a formal complaint about the claims in October 2018 in an apparent bid to protect his staff.

In his email, he said: "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 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."

Royal aides are said to have approached The Times ahead of Meghan and Harry's Oprah Winfrey interview, due to be broadcast in the US on Sunday evening, because they felt only "a partial version" had emerged of the Duchess's two years as a working member of the Royal family. They were also said to be concerned about how such matters are handled by the palace.

Sources reportedly expressed concern that nothing was done at the time to investigate the situation, and nothing had been done since to protect staff against the possibility of bullying by a member of the Royal family.

The atmosphere at Kensington Palace was said to be so "febrile" that the Cambridges chose to accelerate the planned split between the two households. It was claimed that staff would be reduced to tears, with one aide, telling a colleague on anticipation of a confrontation with the Duchess: "I can't stop shaking." Two senior members of staff are said to have claimed they were bullied by the Duchess.

Another former employee told The Times they had been personally "humiliated" by her and claimed that two members of staff had been bullied. One aide claimed it felt "more like emotional cruelty and manipulation, which I guess could also be called bullying".

Sources appear to have raised concerns that little was done by palace staff, despite allegations that "members of staff, particularly young women, were being bullied to the point of tears". One is quoted as saying: "The institution just protected Meghan constantly. All the men in grey suits who she hates have a lot to answer for, because they did absolutely nothing to protect people."

Mr Knauf's email is said to have been sent to Simon Case, then the Duke of Cambridge's private secretary and now the Cabinet Secretary, after he discussed the matter with Samantha Carruthers, the head of HR. Mr Case forwarded it to Ms Carruthers, who was based at Clarence House.

He said that Ms Carruthers "agreed with me on all counts that the situation was very serious".

The email, in which Mr Knauf is also said to have expressed concern about the stress experienced by Samantha Cohen, the Sussexes' private secretary, concluded: "I questioned if the Household policy on bullying and harassment applies to principals."

The Duke of Sussex is said to have pleaded with Mr Knauf not to pursue it, according to a source.

However, lawyers for the couple denied that such a meeting took place or that the Duke would interfere with a staff matter.

A source close to the Sussexes told The Telegraph on Tuesday night that they had no reason to doubt the existence of the email.

However, the source said that when the alleged complainants became aware that the issue had been raised, they asked for it to be withdrawn and it was not pursued.

The Times alleged that two of the people named in the email, who have not been identified, felt that nothing had been done to investigate the bullying claim.

The couple's lawyers told The Times that it was "being used by Buckingham Palace to peddle a wholly false narrative" ahead of the Oprah interview.

When the Sussex and Cambridge households split in March 2019, Mr Knauf took up a job as an adviser to the Duke of Cambridge and is now chief executive of the Cambridges' Royal Foundation.

He was named in the recent privacy action taken by the Duchess against The Mail on Sunday as Meghan revealed that he had advised her when she was composing a letter to her father, Thomas Markle.

Buckingham Palace is understood to have been aware of the allegations for some time.

The palace declined to comment on Tuesday night.