Attorney General refuses to halt BBC Diana debate

The Attorney General chose tonight not to step in to curtail a BBC discussion on whether the Diana inquest is a waste of time.

The Attorney General chose tonight not to step in to curtail a BBC discussion on whether the Diana inquest is a waste of time.

Coroner Lord Justice Scott Baker referred the planned Newsnight debate to Baroness Scotland after lawyers in the case warned it could prejudice proceedings.

Mohamed al Fayed’s barrister Michael Mansfield QC, who was invited on to the programme but refused, had urged the coroner to take a “strident approach”.

He said an earlier plea to the BBC to reconsider the debate, chaired by Jeremy Paxman, had “fallen on deaf ears”.

Amid confusion over whether the coroner could seek an injunction to stop the debate, the matter was passed to the Attorney General’s office.

But the BBC vowed to press ahead and after the coroner’s representations were considered, a spokesman for the Attorney General said no action was to be taken.

“Concerns were expressed to us about this evening’s programme,” he said.

“We have communicated those concerns to the BBC and are satisfied they are in a position to comply with their legal responsibilities.”

An online forum on the BBC’s website to accompany tonight’s discussion asked viewers: “Is the Diana inquest a waste of time and money?”

A posting, linked to the Newsnight page, added: “Is the inquest a necessary exercise in transparency, or has it become a shameful circus?”

Ian Croxford QC, representing Mr al Fayed’s Ritz Hotel, described the posting as “appalling”.

But although barristers representing Mr al Fayed’s interests were vocal in their opposition to the programme, it emerged in court that his own press director Katharine Witty had agreed to take part.

The coroner told Mr Mansfield: “I have had this drawn to my attention by you, I am bound to say I am extremely surprised that … that a member of the al Fayed team … is participating in the programme.”

Ms Witty later pulled out in light of the coroner’s comments.

A BBC spokeswoman said: “Newsnight is planning to debate the Diana inquest and whether it can achieve what it set out to.

“As with all our programmes, the production team will ensure that the debate stays within legal boundaries.”

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