Judge Rodger Bell is not to be envied. He faces the longest, most expensive and one of the most bizarre libel trials ever to come before a British court. He cannot have foreseen however, the tedium of his two-year long job: Piece after piece of evidence on such enthralling topics as the fat content of beefburgers and the hygiene standards of industrial kitchens demand his undivided attention.After this ordeal, he will at least be a specialist on the subject of hamburgers.
McDonalds is the world's largest fast food chain. At London's High Court, they are prosecuting two unemployed vegetarians who allegedly distributed a flyer in which the words 'McMurder', 'McCancer' and 'McDollars' were used in connection with McDonalds. Amongst other things, the flyer states that hamburgers cause cancer and accuses the company of destroying rainforests and exploiting the peoples of the third world. McDonalds has been fighting this slander for years and wishes now for the court to confirm that the pamphlet is merely a 'unique packet of lies'.
LIVING ON SOCIAL SECURITY
The trial which began a year ago was originally to have been over within three months. In any case, the fast-food giant had summoned up London's best libel lawyer, while the defendants, David Morris and Helen Steel, had to represent themselves. They belong to an ecologically-anarchistic splinter group, live offsocial security and deny that they are responsible for the contents and distribution of the flyer. They emphasise however, that the accusations therein are the truth, and are attempting to prove this before a court.
THE BIG QUESTION: DELICIOUS OR DANGEROUS?
A question thoroughly investigated, since this case will go down in British legal history as the longest libel trial yet. More than 50 witnesses have appeared already and a further 130 follow. Point by point, the flyer is meticulously dismantled and scrutinised. No verdict is to be expected until themiddle of next year, the costs of the trial are in the millions.
A HEAVY PR FLOP
Already, the loser is apparent:
Not only is McDonalds footing the full costs of the trial (because the defendants have no money), but furthermore the whole action has grown to be a heavy PR flop for Big Mac. Whether accurate or not, the allegations made in the flyer have, through the trial, received a wide audience.
McDonalds has had to concede that South Anerican beef has been used in English restaurants. A nutrition expert from the company has also admitted that there is a link between "high levels of fat, sugar, animal products and salt in foods" and breast cancer, stomach problems and heart-disease, as the flyer claimed.
McDonalds is now trying desperately to find a way out of the mess. The fight of the eco-David against the fast-food Goliath has led to international solidarity action, sullied the firm's image and hit profits. Thereis rumour of secret contact with Morris and Steel in a bid to agree a more elegant end to the trial. But the defendants know that they cannot lose.
Now they are putting their own conditions to the fast-food multinational:|
McDonalds must apologise to all the flyer's campaigners who were threatened with legal action and pay damages, which will be donated to charity organisations.