Sunday, November 07, 2004

Multi-million pound claim will 'waste' Diana memorial funds
By Sally Pook
(Filed: 08/11/2004)

A multi-million pound legal battle which friends of Diana, Princess of Wales, say should never have reached court opens in Los Angeles today.

The Franklin Mint, an American company which makes souvenirs including Diana dolls, is suing the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund in a case described as "savage and punitive" by one British charity.

Princess Diana doll and plate
Franklin Mint Princess Diana doll and commemorative plate

The action originated six years ago when, with the advice of its lawyers, the fund sued The Franklin Mint, alleging it was illegally selling Diana dolls, plates and jewellery. The fund lost and was left with a £4 million legal bill.

The Franklin Mint then counter-sued. Stewart and Lynda Resnick, the owners of the company, claim their reputation was damaged by the fund, which said they were "vultures feeding on the dead".

The Franklin Mint's case of malicious prosecution, described as groundless by the defendants, has angered charities and friends of the princess, who say money which should have gone to charity is now being wasted on legal fees.

The company is claiming nearly £14 million but has pledged that any money it receives will go to charity. If it wins, and the damages exceed what's left in the fund, the trustees, including Diana's sister Lady Sarah McCorquodale, will be liable.

Rosa Monckton, a close friend of the princess, said: "This is a case that should never have happened. Obviously I hope the fund wins. It would be appalling to see yet more money that people have donated going on legal fees.

"But I think it was very misguided of the fund to get their lawyers to sue in the first place. I don't know what they were thinking of." The fund has defended its orginal action, saying it had an obligation to protect the image of the princess. The fund was allegedly advised by an American legal firm that it had a strong case against the company.

A spokesman for the fund said yesterday: "The fund believes that time and energy is being wasted on a groundless lawsuit which could be put into supporting good causes around the world."

The fund was established in 1997 with £20 million of public donations following the death of the princess. It raised an additional £45 million from donated products and £35 million from licenced products. It has committed £50 million to more than 400 humanitarian initiatives, however the fund froze £48 million last year when the Franklin Mint began legal action.

Response International, a British charity established to support victims of violent conflict, was one of those affected by the freezing of the fund's assets.

Philip Garvin, chief executive, said: "This has set us back hugely. I believe the Franklin Mint is being punitive and savage. The legal fees will hurt everybody."

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