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Buckingham Palace hires external law firm to investigate bullying claims against Meghan, Duchess of Sussex

FILE - In this Dec. 1, 2017 file photo, Britain's Prince Harry and his fiancee Meghan Markle arrive at Nottingham Academy in Nottingham, England. Media and well-wishers have been camped out in Windsor for days awaiting the birth of the couple's first child, due in late April or early May. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

(CNN) — Buckingham Palace has hired an external law firm to investigate claims that Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, bullied royal staff, CNN understands.

The Palace initially said it would investigate after a British media report earlier this month cited unnamed royal aides as saying a complaint had been made against Meghan in 2018.

A spokesman for Buckingham Palace said on Monday: “Our commitment to look into the circumstances around allegations from former staff of The Duke and Duchess of Sussex is being taken forward but we will not be providing a public commentary on it.”

CNN was not told which firm would be investigating the claims. The move comes as the Palace faces a crisis over the allegations made by Prince Harry and Meghan in their explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey.

Harry and Meghan did not comment on Monday, but a spokesperson for the couple previously dismissed bullying accusations reported by The Times newspaper as “defamatory.”

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

The Palace’s aggressive plan to probe the report contrasts starkly with its approach towards Meghan’s allegation of racism against a senior royal, which the family said it would keep in-house.

Contrasting approaches from the Palace

The war of words between the two camps erupted shortly before the airing of Meghan and Harry’s discussion with Winfrey, in which the couple lifted the lid on the difficulties of their lives as royals and made a series of damning allegations against the family.

Most strikingly, Meghan said that there were “concerns and conversations” about the skin color of their baby, Archie, and “what that would mean.” Buckingham Palace later said the allegation of racism was “concerning” but that it would “be addressed by the family privately.”

It has taken a different approach with the claims that Meghan bullied royal staff, which emerged in an article in The Times. Critics of the Palace are also likely to point out that they have launched no such independent inquiry into the relationship between Prince Andrew and Jeffrey Epstein, the late disgraced financier and convicted pedophile.

But those allegations differ in that they relate to senior royals rather than staff, whose complaints are more likely to fall under the remit of human resources. The hiring of an outside firm comes after the Palace said their “HR team will look into the circumstances outlined in the article.”

“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,” it said in its earlier statement.

During their interview with Winfrey, Harry and Meghan said they complained several times to the Palace that their mental health was suffering, but were dismissed. Meghan revealed that at one point she contemplated suicide, claims that have reverberated throughout Britain’s media and put the royals under scrutiny.

The only senior royal to face questions on the interview so far has been Prince William, who told a reporter last week that the royals are “very much not a racist family.”