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Health campaigners slam Ofcom in legal battle over ad restrictions

LONDON - A heart disease charity has claimed that Ofcom is trying to intimidate it into abandoning legal action as tensions rise about the regulator's consultation on the future of food advertising.

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The National Heart Forum, an alliance of 50 health, medical and consumer organisations, is attempting to mount a legal challenge to Ofcom's consultation and claims the regulator is trying to scare it into abandoning this course.

In March, Ofcom produced a range of alternative proposals for restrictions on the advertising of food to children. The NHF announced two months later that because Ofcom's proposals excluded a 9pm watershed for junk food advertising it would seek a judicial review against Ofcom.

In the latest development, the NHF's lawyer Richard Stein has publicly accused Ofcom of a "blatant attempt to frighten" the forum away from bringing its claim.

He was responding to correspondence from Ofcom explaining that it considered the 144 organisations involved in the consultation, including broadcasters and food companies, should be given the opportunity to participate in the legal proceedings.

In the letter Ofcom legal director Caroline Smith invites the NHF to consider whether it agrees it should serve notice on those organisations.

The NHF claims that Ofcom has threatened to serve up the organisations as "interested parties" to the case, which would "massively drive up costs and tie up court time".

Jane Landon, deputy chief executive of the NHF, said: "Ofcom's response to our legal challenge is to try and scare us into abandoning our claim. It is scandalous that a national regulator should use public money to attempt to outgun our limited charitable resources by ramping up costs and wasting time."

The NHF includes the British Medical Association, the British Heart Foundation, the National Union of Teachers and Which?.

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