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Monday, November 15, 1999 Published at 15:18 GMT


UK

Hamilton libel trial opens

Neil Hamilton and his wife arrive at the High Court

The jury has been sworn in at the High Court in London as Harrods boss Mohamed al-Fayed faces accusations of libel brought against him by former Tory minister Neil Hamilton.

The libel trial, which is expect to last for up to five weeks, began at the High Court on Monday.


The BBC's Jane Peel: "The countries top libel lawyers have been briefed"
Mr Hamilton, the former MP for Tatton, is suing Mr al-Fayed for libel. The case concerns allegations Mr Fayed made in a Channel 4 programme that Mr Hamilton had accepted cash from him to ask parliamentary questions on his behalf. Mr Hamilton denies the claims.

Legal arguments

Although Mr al-Fayed was not present in court, his lawyers, headed by George Carman QC, have begun legal arguments.


[ image: Mr al-Fayed may take the witness stand for the first time]
Mr al-Fayed may take the witness stand for the first time
Before the jury was selected, the 38 prospective members were asked 14 questions to ensure their objectivity.

The questions included whether any juror had worked for or was acquainted with either Mr Hamilton or his family or Mr al-Fayed or his family.

The prospective candidates were also asked if any of them were members of or supporters of Fulham Football Club, which is owned by Mr al-Fayed.

Tension in the courtroom was broken on this question when Mr Justice Morland said in mock surprise: "Not one of you?"

Two of the prospective jurors were found ineligible, both of them former Harrods employees.

Six men and six women were then chosen at random and took the oath.

After the jurors were sworn in, they were sent away until 14:00GMT on Tuesday.

'Gossip'

Before the jurors left, the judge gave them a firm warning, saying that most, if not all of them, would have heard of Mr al-Fayed and Mr Hamilton.

He said: "You may have seen both of them on TV, heard both of them on the radio, and you may have read comments or statements about each of them in newspapers.

"You may have heard gossip about both or either of them.

"The important thing that I remind you of at the outset of this is that you and you alone decide the facts in this case and you decide those facts on the evidence given in this court."

The case could see former ministers Edwina Currie and Michael Heseltine called to the witness box.

Mr al-Fayed, who has previously given evidence in the Chancery division of the High Court in private, will face his first public cross-examination during the case.

At Mr Hamilton's request, Mr al-Fayed will give evidence first, although his status as defendant would normally put him under the spotlight second.



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