April 1985 - first international day of action against McDonald's (around 30th anniversary of the McDonald's Corporation).
1986 London Greenpeace publish a leaflet entitled 'What's Wrong with McDonald's? - Everything they don't want you to know.' The leaflet is critical of the Corporation's treatment of animals, promotion of unhealthy food, effects on the environment and exploitative employment practices. The leaflet contains the phrases McTorture, McCancer, McMurder, McGreedy, McDollars and McProfits.
1987 A mobile vegetarian food service called 'Veggies' from Nottingham is threatened by McDonald's with legal reprisals, if they continue to use the words 'Murder' and 'Torture' to describe the rearing and slaughter of animals for McDonald's products. Their literature was a copy of the London Greenpeace leaflet. Veggies change these words to 'slaughter' and 'butchery' and amend the destruction of rainforest section to refer to the burger industry in general but not specifically McDonald's. No more is heard from the McDonald's legal department and Veggies continue to distribute the leaflet.
October 1989 - September 1990 McDonald's send undercover private investigators to infiltrate London Greenpeace. The 'spies' take minutes of meetings, answer letters and make friends with members of the group. They also follow people back to their homes to ascertain their addresses and 'purloin' the group's letters. These undercover investigators are later to become court witnesses appearing on behalf of McDonald's.
September 1990 The McDonald's Corporation issue writs for libel against five members of London Greenpeace considered responsible for distributing the 'What's wrong with McDonald's?' leaflet. Three of the five people subject to the writs formally apologise after legal advice is given pointing out that legal aid is unobtainable for libel cases and that the case is due to be huge and costly and unlikely to proceed beyond the pre-trial hearings because of the complex pre-trial legal procedures which have to be followed. Two of the five, Helen Steel and Dave Morris, refuse to apologise. Libel defences do not qualify for legal aid, so the defendants decide to represent themselves. The three members who formally apologised issue a statement criticising oppressive libel laws and pledging support for Helen Steel and Dave Morris.
September 1990 - June 1994 Twenty eight pre-trial hearings are conducted during which McDonald's put a number of legal obstacles in the way of the defendants. These include persuading the judge to make an order requiring the defendants to produce all the witness statements backing up their defence within three weeks. To the surprise of both McDonald's and the Judge, the defendants manage to gather over 65 witness statements within the allotted time period. McDonald's replace its barrister with Richard Rampton QC, one of Britain's top libel lawyers for a reputed fee of £2000 a day plus a briefing fee.
Late 1990 The McLibel Support Campaign is set up to generate solidarity and financial support for the McLibel Defendants.
1991 The defendants unsuccessfully take the British government to the European Court of Human Rights, demanding the right to legal aid or the simplification of libel procedures. Without a full hearing, the court rules that, as the defendants had put up a "tenacious defence", they could not say they were being denied access to justice!
Late 1993 On behalf of McDonald's, Richard Rampton QC applies to the court for a non-jury trial. McDonald's submit that the scientific evidence necessary to examine the links between diet and disease are too complicated for a jury to understand. The judge agrees.
Dave Morris and Helen Steel apply unsuccessfully to the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords to reinstate the trial with a jury. McDonald's also apply for an order striking out certain parts of the defence on the grounds that the witness statements gathered by the defendants does not sufficiently support those areas of the defence. The judge agrees with McDonald's.
However, in a landmark legal decision, the Court of Appeal restores all parts of the defence on the basis that the defendants are entitled to rely on the witness statements, on future discovery of McDonald's documents and on what they might reasonably expect to discover under cross-examination.
March 1994 McDonald's publish a leaflet entitled 'Why McDonald's is going to court' and distributes 300,000 of them to customers via its burger outlets. In the leaflet McDonald's say: "This action is not about freedom of speech; it is about the right to stop people telling lies." The name given on the leaflet for further information is Mike Love, ex-Conservative Party constituency manager for Margaret Thatcher and now Director of Communications for McDonald's UK.
April 1994 Dave Morris and Helen Steel issue a counter claim for libel against McDonald's for the company's accusation that they are telling lies. With the counter-claim, McDonald's now have the onus to prove that the statements contained within the London Greenpeace leaflet are "lies" and that the defendants knew them to be so. Under the original libel suit brought by McDonald's, Morris and Steel have the onus of proving that the statements in the allegedly libellous leaflet are true or fair comment. The defendants are also required under British libel law to provide 'primary sources' of evidence to substantiate their case. This means witness statements and documentary proof but not press cuttings or common conceptions.
June 28th 1994 The full libel trial, presided over by Mr Justice Bell, commences in court 35, High Court, The Strand.
July 1, 4 and 5th 1994 Paul Preston, McDonald's UK President, appears in the witness stand. Born in Ohio, Preston joined McDonald's at age 16. In 1974 he came to Britain to manage the first UK McDonald's Burger Bar in Woolwich, south London. He was recently quoted as saying: "McDonald's isn't a job, it's a life". He also said: "McDonald's employees have ketchup in their veins."
July 6th 1994 Evidence commences on environmental effects of McDonald's packaging. The court hears how a recycling scheme advertised in the Nottingham branches of McDonald's was billed as "recycling into such things as plant pots and coat hangers". Edward Oakley, Chief Purchasing Officer for McDonald's UK, admits that the polystyrene packaging collected over the several years that they advertised the scheme was simply "dumped". He also says in court: "I can see [the dumping of waste] to be a benefit, otherwise you will end up with lots of vast, empty gravel pits all over the country."
July 18th 1994 Evidence commences on the McDonald's nutritional record. An internal company memo disclosed during the trial says: "McDonald's should not attempt to deflect the basic negative thrust of our critics.... How do we do this? By talking 'moderation and balance'. We can't really address or defend nutrition. We don't sell nutrition and people don't come to McDonald's for nutrition." In contrast, the court was reminded of the contents of the McDonald's 'nutrition' guide given out to the public via its burger outlet. The 'nutrition' guide says: "Every time you eat McDonald's, you'll eat good, nutritious food.... McDonald's meal combinations can form part of your balanced diet." Tim Lobstein, co-director of the Food Commission tells the court that McDonald's concept of balanced diet is "meaningless". "You could eat a roll of sellotape as part of a balanced diet" he says.
July 26th 1994 Evidence commences on McDonald's animal welfare and food poisoning record. Dr Neville Gregory, an expert witness appearing on behalf of McDonald's tells the court that McDonald's egg suppliers keep chickens in battery cages, five chickens to a cage with each bird having less than the size of an A4 sheet of paper of space to live in. Edward Oakley, Senior Vice President of McDonald's UK, describes these conditions as "pretty comfortable". He also goes on to say: "Hens kept in batteries are better cared for".
September 1994 - Operation 'Send-It-Back' launched in Nottingham by Veggies.
September 12th 1994 Dr Sydney Arnott, McDonald's expert witness on cancer, inadvertently admits that a statement made in the allegedly libellous leaflet connecting diet with disease is a "very reasonable" assessment.
October 1st 1994 - McDonald's UK 20th Anniversary 'Birthday Celebrations' countered - McDonald's executives held a celebration along with jazz band and clown at their Woolwich store, which 20 years ago opened as the first UK McDonald's. 25 London Greenpeace supporters of various ages together with the Mclibel Defendants gathered in their midst with a banner reading '20 years of McGarbage" and handed out 4000 "What's Wrong With McDonald's" leaflets to passers-by.
October 14th 1994 - Operation 'Send-It-Back' launched in London by the McLibel Support Campaign at a picket of McDonald's European HQ - it was picketed by 50 demonstrators for 2 hours while employees were going home. The demonstators with placards and banners (one reading '20 years of McGarbage') handed out "What's Wrong With McDonald's" leaflets to passers-by, and returned 30 sackfuls of the company's litter picked up from the streets.
October 15th 1994 - National March Against McDonald's - about 500 protesters marched through Central London to highlight McDonald's exploitation of people, animals and the environment.
October 16th 1994 - the 10th consecutive Worldwide Anti-McDonald's Day which was the focus of independent protests all over the UK and the world. For example, 7 benefit concerts were held in various cities in Australia, a Ronald McDonald was put in the stocks outside the largest McDonald's in Wellington, New Zealand, and 80 demonstrators took to the streets in Lisbon and handed out leaflets.
October 28th 1994 Evidence commences on McDonald's use of advertising techniques. The official and confidential McDonald's Operation Manual is read out in court. It reads: "Ronald loves McDonald's and McDonald's food. And so do children, because they love Ronald. Remember children exert a phenomenal influence when it come to restaurant selection. This means you should do everything you can to appeal to children's love for Ronald and McDonald's."
Paul Preston, McDonald's UK President, tells the court that Ronald McDonald is not intended to "sell food" to children but to promote the "McDonald's experience". David Green, McDonald's Senior Vice President of Marketing, tells the court that "[children are] virgin ground as far as marketing is concerned."
January 1995 David Walker (Chairman of McKey Foods, the sole supplier of McDonald's UK hamburgers) admits that he personally organised the direct import of the consignments of Brazilian beef for use in UK stores in 1983/4. The court is told of a letter sent by a member of the general public concerned about rainforest destruction in Brazil.
In a letter read out in court, the McDonald's Corporation replied:
"We can assure you that the only Brazilian beef used by McDonald's is that purchased by the six stores located in Brazil itself." A statement made by Ray Cesca (Director of McDonald's Global Purchasing) is also read in court. In the statement is an admission that McDonald's used beef reared on recently de-forested rainforest when they first opened their stores in Costa Rica in 1970.
March 13th 1995 The 102nd day in court breaks the previous record for the length of a British libel trial (beating the 101 day record set by Daily Mail V The Moonies )
April 1995 Evidence commences on McDonald's employment record. Sid Nicholson, McDonald's UK Vice President, claims in court that McDonald's are not anti-union and that all staff had the right to join one. He then says that workers "would not be allowed to collect subscriptions.... put up notices.... pass out any leaflets.... organise a meeting for staff to discuss conditions at the store on the premises.... or to inform the union about conditions inside the stores." ('Gross Misconduct' and a 'Summary sackable offence'). He also admits to the court that for crew aged 21 or over, the company "couldn't actually pay any lower wages without falling foul of the law".
April 15th 1995 The 40th anniversary of the McDonald's Corporation. The defendants are invited to the United States to attend an anti-birthday celebration outside the first McDonald's burger bar (now a McDonald's museum) in Des Plaines, Illinois. McDonald's abandon plans to hold a birthday celebration in the museum on that day. Numerous anti-McDonald's demonstrations are held in over 20 countries around the world.
May 28th 1995 The Australian Television programme '60 Minutes' runs a feature on the McLibel case which includes the exposure of a McDonald's media strategy document. The document marked 'highly confidential' is entitled '60 Minutes Strategy - McDonald's Australia'.
The document says: "We know that 60 minutes has been in Chicago filming in various locations with the two defendants and a group of supporters. They are scheduled to be in the UK where we can only assume they will be doing more of the same". In a section on how McDonald's might explain a refusal to be interviewed, it suggests claiming no knowledge of the programme: "We don't know what 60 minutes are doing - only what we've seen on the promo [run a week before the programme is shown]". They go on: "We could worsen the controversy by adding our opinion/perspective (this could add another dimension)"..."We should play down any importance or significance of the 60 minutes programme".
Under the heading "Who should we talk to?" are a list of three named journalists. The document says they should "all be handled by Peter Ritchie [Head of Public Relations McDonald's Australia] because of his relationship with the presenters". Under the heading "Who should we not talk to?" the document says "Any ABC radio or TV station Australia wide because they have given significant coverage to the case in a positive perspective".
The 60 Minutes programme is shown in Australia with a full exposure of the strategy document and an accusation that McDonald's are actively manipulating the media. The programme is syndicated to up to 60 other countries.
May 26th 1995 At the McDonald's Corporation Annual General Meeting in Chicago, Michael Quinlan - Chair and Chief Executive - attempts to placate a concerned shareholder by stating that the libel case would be "coming to a wrap soon".
June 6th 1995 McDonald's hire Ruskin Park in south London for three days in order to shoot a television advertisement. The project is abandoned at a cost of £100,000 after demonstrators keep popping up in front of camera with 'McGreedy' banners.
June 28th 1995 First anniversary of the trial. National media report that settlement negotiations between McDonald's and the defendants are under way. The defendants read a statement outside the High Court to clarify their part in the story. In the statement it says that McDonald's initiated settlement discussions and on two separate occasions flew over members of the US Board of Directors to meet the McLibel defendants.
An article in The Economist (1/7/95) reveals that McDonald's had offered money to be given to a third party, if the defendants under take a legally binding agreement not to criticise the Corporation again. The defendants refuse the offer, stating that their pre-conditions for the termination of the trial are as follows:
July 3rd McDonald's decide to end an agreement by which a copy of the official court transcipts that they pay for, is passed to the defendants. The reason given is the amount of court evidence finding its way into the national and international media.
July 18th 1995 A full front page feature article appears in the Wall Street Journal (18/7/95) headlined 'Activists put McDonald's on Grill'. The article is part of a spate of media coverage that swept across America following the first anniversary of the trial which included 4 minutes on prime time CBS National News.
July 26th 1995 Summer recess begins.
September 25th 1995 Summer recess ends and the trial recommences.
October 12th 1995 The third anniversary of the death of Mark Hopkins, a worker electrocuted at McDonald's Arndale store in Manchester, and a Day of Solidarity With McDonald's Workers in the UK. Protests and leafletting take place at over 15 locations around the UK. Maureen Hopkins (Mark's mother) organises a picket at the Arndale Centre store which 40 people attend. The inquest had decided that Mark's death was an accident. But the discovery of a previously confidential internal Report by McDonald's into Mark's death (which catalogued a number of company failures and problems) and other documents not shown to the inquest jury leads the Hopkins' family to demand that a new inquest be held. Legal action is prepared. Maureen Hopkins declares: "I think the Report should have been put before the inquest. It may have made a difference. It was horrendous to go to the Arndale McDonald's but I needed to do it in Mark's memory. I've always known there was something wrong with the outcome of the inquest into my son's death. We haven't got peace of mind and Mark can't rest in peace while this new evidence, which has come to light during the libel trial, has not been seriously investigated. I won't give up. We want a new inquest. We're not bitter against the company but we want justice for our son and I won't rest until we get it."
October 16th, 1995 11th annual Worldwide Day of Action Against McDonald's (also UN 'World Food Day'). In the UK, about half (300) of McDonald's stores are leafletted. There are protests in at least 20 other countries.
October 18th, 1995 The Defendants begin calling their employment witnesses: over 30 ex-employees of McDonald's together with trade union officials and activists from around the world. The testimony of Iain Whittle (former crew member at Sutton McDonald's) is reported in the Evening Standard under the headline "McDonald's Accused of Blatant Racism".
October 30th, 1995 The first of five former employees from the Colchester branch of McDonald's (from crew members up to the Store Manager) gives evidence for Helen and Dave. The Colchester branch was made 'Store of the Year' by McDonald's in 1987. The ex-employees lay bare the reality of McDonald's unethical, illegal and oppressive working practices: watering down products, working amid sewage, illegal hours worked by young staff, cutting labour costs to the bone, and the fiddling of time cards.
October 31st, 1995 The testimony of Simon Gibney (former Assistant Manager of the Colchester store) is widely reported, including on the front page of the Today newspaper under the headline "What a McRipoff".
November 8th & 9th, 1995 Top executives from some of the world's largest multinationals gather at a hotel in London for Management Summit '95. The summit aims to help companies "dominate existing markets and win in and create tomorrow's markets". Paul Preston (McDonald's UK President) and Mike Garrett (of the food giant Nestle) are two of the speakers. Protesters - including supporters of Baby Milk Action (campaigning against Nestle), Greenpeace (London), the McLibel Support Campaign, and Earth First! - demonstrate outside the hotel to voice their opposition to the exploitation of people, animals, and the environment carried out by multinationals in the pursuit of profit; and to express their ideas and hopes for the better society they are helping to create.
November 20th, 1995 The Judge hands down his ruling on the meaning of the London Greenpeace Factsheet regarding nutrition.
December 6th, 1995 Against the overwhelming wishes of the local community, a McDonald's store opens at Kings Cross in London (becoming the 26th burger bar in the area). Local residents along with supporters of London Greenpeace and the McLibel Defendants voice their lively opposition during the opening ceremony. Four protesters have official invitations and go inside the store where they disrupt the "Champagne Reception".
December 11th, 1995 The trial on Day 199 becomes the longest civil case in British history. The Defendants declare that "The reason it is taking so long is because McDonald's is trying to suppress a wide range of common sense views on matters of great public interest which we naturally have an obligation to defend. ..... It is clear that the campaign and the distribution of anti-McDonald's leaflets are unstoppable, and the trial has only served to give them greater impetus and publicity."
December 15th, 1995 Last day in court before Yuletide break.
January 11th, 1996 Trial resumes after Yuletide break.
February 16th 1996 McLibel Defendants access the 'McSpotlight' worldwide website for the first time on-line on a laptop connected by mobile phone to the Internet, outside the McDonald's store at Leicester Square, Central London.
February 22nd 1996 Section of the trial on the connections between McDonald's and rainforest destruction (particularly in Central and South America) began.
April 2nd 1996 The Court of Appeal refused to grant the appeal brought by the McLibel Defendants against the Judge's ruling on the meaning of the London Greenpeace Factsheet in relation to Nutrition.
April 17th 1996 'Publication' section on the trial began.
May 7th 1996 Paul Preston (McDonald's UK President and Chief Executive) returned to the witness box for further cross-examination by the McLibel Two.
June 10th 1996 The first of the 'Enquiry Agents' employed by McDonald's to infiltrate London Greenpeace started giving evidence.
June 27th 1996 The McLibel Defendants were denied leave to appeal in the Court of Appeal against the Judge's ruling in which McDonald's were allowed to amend their Statement of Claim (their original case against Helen Steel and Dave Morris) on Publication.
June 28th 1996 Second anniversary of the McLibel Trial. There was a picket outside the court with a cake depicting an unhappy Ronald Ronald. One of the 'Enquiry Agents' who "felt very uncomfortable" infiltrating London Greenpeace and who "did not think there was anything wrong with what the group was doing" testified for the Defence.
July 8th - 11th 1996 Helen Steel gave her evidence on publication and the counterclaim.
July 17th 1996 Last day in court before the summer recess. All the evidence in the case has now been completed.
September 29th 1996 The "McLibel Gathering (Mobilise Against Big Mac)" was held at Conway Hall in Central London with discussions and workshops about the Trial, anti-McDonald's campaigning, McSpotlight, and the "Adopt-a-Store" network.
October 7th 1996 The parties returned to court after the summer recess for legal argument. The convention in civil cases is that defendants present their Closing Speech first, followed by the plaintiffs. The McLibel Defendants repeated their request for a ruling that, in the interests of justice, the Closing Speech of McDonald's should be presented first. The Defendants submitted that such a ruling would have enabled them to hear what case they had to answer before summarising their Defence, and also would have given them some further time to prepare. In their Closing Speech, Steel & Morris had the immense task of analysing 40,000 pages of documentary evidence, and 20,000 pages of transcript testimony, as well as dealing with many complex legal arguments and submissions to the judge, Mr Justice Bell. Steel & Morris were unrepresented, had few resources and had no experience in preparing and presenting Closing Speeches. McDonald's, with their team of top libel lawyers and assistants, had had every advantage in this case, but Richard Rampton QC strongly opposed the Defendants' application, and the Judge ruled that the Defence must go first, starting on October 21st.
October 12th 1996 On the second Day of Solidarity With McDonald's Workers (the fourth anniversary of the fatal electrocution of Mark Hopkins, a McDonald's worker in Manchester), there were protests and leafletting at many regional locations around the UK, including a large picket in Manchester organised by the Hopkins family.
October 16th 1996 There were protests in approx 25 countries to mark the 12th annual World Day of Action against McDonald's (also UN "World Food Day"). About 250 of McDonald's UK stores were leafletted.
October 17th 1996 The Court of Appeal refused to give the Defendants leave to appeal against Mr Justice's Bell's ruling that the Defendants go first in the Closing Speeches and that they be given no more time to prepare their Closing Speech.
October 21st 1996 The McLibel Defendants started their Closing Speech.
November 1st 1996 The McLibel Trial became the longest trial of any kind in British history on Day 292. The longest British trial before then was the Tichborne personation case which lasted 291 days, ending in 1874 (see Guinness Book of Records, 1987 p.212). (The Tichborne case actually comprised two trials, one civil lasting 103 days, and one criminal lasting 188 days). The McLibel Trial already had an entry in the 1997 edition of the Guinness Book of Records as the longest civil case. There was a protest/celebration outside the court, during which the Defendants were presented with a 'milestone' which read: "292 DAYS - LONGEST EVER TRIAL. McWORLD UNDER THE GRILL".
November 19th 1996 On Day 303, the trial became three times as long as any previous UK libel trial (the previous longest being a mere 101 days!).
November 28th 1996 The Defendants finished their Closing Speech and Richard Rampton QC for McDonald's handed in his Closing Speech in written form.
December 3rd, 4th & 6th 1996 The Judge asked Mr Rampton questions about his Closing Speech.
December 11th - 13th 1996 The Defendants presented their final legal arguments. On Day 312, they submitted that UK libel laws in general - and in this case in particular - were oppressive and unfair, particularly the denial of Legal Aid and a jury trial. The Defendants argued that multinational corporations should no longer be allowed to sue their critics in order to silence them, and cited European and US laws which would debar such a case. They also cited recent developments in UK law debarring governmental bodies from suing for libel. It was further argued that the McLibel case was beyond all previous precedent, was an abuse of procedure and of public rights, and that there was "an overriding imperative for decisions to be made to protect the public interest".
December 13th 1996 This was the last day of final submissions (Day 313). Mr Justice Bell said "I will say now that I propose to reserve my judgment. It will take me some time to write it. I don't mean to be difficult when I say I don't know when I will deliver it because I don't know. He denied newspaper reports that his ruling would come at the beginning of 1997 or early 1997, adding "It will take me longer than that."