Diana's Fund to face 'trial by television'
By Andrew Alderson, Chief Reporter
The charity set up to honour Diana, Princess of Wales is facing a "trial by television" as its £15 million legal battle with an American souvenir company begins this week.
The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund is being sued for "malicious prosecution" by the company, Franklin Mint. The hearing, opening in Los Angeles on Friday, is expected to last three weeks.
This weekend, court officials told The Telegraph that the BBC has applied to Judge John P Shook to televise the hearing. If the application is successful the hearing will be seen by a worldwide audience of tens of millions, increasing the pressure on the trustees, who have been accused by critics of squandering millions of pounds. Requests to televise court hearings are usually looked upon favourably by United States judges.
Those under most scrutiny are Andrew Purkis, the fund's chief executive, and Anthony Julius, the solicitor who acted for the Princess in her divorce from the Prince of Wales and who is now a trustee of the fund.
Dr Purkis, who will appear as a witness at the hearing this week, yesterday attacked Stewart and Lynda Resnick, the wealthy owners of Franklin Mint, for bringing the "groundless" action.
The court is expected to listen to a "videotaped deposition" from Mr Julius in which he admits that as early as October 1997 - less than three months after the Princess died - the trustees agreed to target Franklin Mint to make an example of it and to discourage other companies from making unauthorised memorabilia. Court documents obtained by The Sunday Telegraph contain a transcript of Mr Julius confirming the accuracy of minutes of a meeting of trustees.
The fund was set up in 1997 shortly after the Princess's death in a car crash in Paris and, over the past seven years, has given more than £50 million in charitable gifts worldwide. However, on July 11 last year, it announced that it had frozen further gifts worth £48 million because of the legal action by Franklin Mint.
The fund first took legal action against Franklin Mint in 1998. It lost that action four years later at a cost of £4 million in joint legal bills. The fund is now being counter-sued for $25 million (£14.5 million) by the US company.
The Resnicks, who have given more than £25 million to charity in eight years, claim that their reputation and that of their company was unfairly maligned by the fund and its former US lawyers, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips.
The couple were incensed that they were accused of being "vultures feeding on the dead" and that they were "stealing" the Princess's name and likeness. In its claim, Franklin Mint says that royal souvenirs have been openly sold around the world for centuries without permission and that those of Diana were no exception.
Her death on August 31, 1997, "created massive consumer demand for Princess Diana memorabilia, which the Mint and hundreds of others attempted to service". Charitable commitments "as a means of honouring Princess Diana" had been scrupulously met.
In its own representation to the court, the fund says that trustees were "reluctant litigators" and had taken action - in good faith, without malice and after extensive legal advice - to protect "certain intellectual property rights of the Princess which had been licensed to the fund". Dr Purkis said the Mint's legal action had already cost the fund a further £2 million in legal fees. This is on top of the fund's £4 million losses from its earlier failed action.
"This case is unnecessary," he said. "The original action was all over and we paid out dues in full - a substantial award to the Resnicks and Franklin Mint. That should have been the end of the matter."
If successful, Franklin Mint has said that it will donate any proceeds to charitable causes linked to the Princess.
Those who are critical of the fund's original legal action against the company include Rosa Monckton, one of the Princess's closest friends. She has called for the fund to distribute its money and close. She said that the action in 1998 was "absolute insanity" and that the trustees now had only themselves to blame.