Handing out leaflets on the streets was one of the main activities of the
small activist group London
Greenpeace, who'd been campaigning on a variety of environmental and
social justice issues since the early 1970's. (The group predates the more
well known Greenpeace International and the two organisations are unconnected).
In 1978 local postman Dave Morris worked alongside London Greenpeace activists in protests against nuclear power. By 1982 he had started attending the group's meetings.
London Greenpeace campaigned on a wide range of issues from nuclear power and Third World Debt to anti-traffic actions and the Miners Strike. In the mid 1980's the group began a campaign focusing on McDonald's as a high profile organisation symbolising everything they considered wrong with the prevailing corporate mentality. In 1985 they launched the International Day of Action Against McDonald's, which has been held on October 16th ever since. In 1986 they produced a 6-sided factsheet called 'What's Wrong With McDonald's? - Everything they don't want you to know'. The leaflet attacked almost all aspects of the corporation's business, accusing them of exploiting children with advertising, promoting an unhealthy diet, exploiting their staff and being responsible for environmental damage and ill treatment of animals.
But the group also continued with other campaigns, and in 1987, 21-year old gardener Helen Steel went along to meetings to get involved with protests in support of Aboriginal land rights at the time of the re-enactment of the First Fleet sailing to Australia.
Meanwhile, McDonald's were busily suing (or threatening to sue) almost everyone who criticised them - from the BBC and The Guardian to student unions and green groups. They appeared to ignore the London Greenpeace campaign, and instead threatened a food cooperative called 'Veggies' in Nottingham, who were distributing the same leaflet. McDonald's then made an agreement with Veggies, accepting the circulation of the leaflet with some minor amendments to a couple of sections only. The company didn't even complain about the majority of the leaflet. Veggies continued distributing the leaflets in bulk.
In 1989, as the campaign grew and was taken up by more and more groups around the world, McDonald's produced their own 'McFact cards' detailing their position on many of the accusations made in the leaflet. They also decided to take extreme action against London Greenpeace.
McDonald's hired two firms of private investigators and instructed them to infiltrate the group in order to find out how they operated, who did what and, most importantly, who was responsible for the production and distribution of the leaflet.
Since London Greenpeace was an unincorporated association, if McDonald's wanted to bring legal action to stop the campaign it would have to be against named individuals - which meant the company needed to find out people's names and addresses. Seven spies in total infiltrated the group. They followed people home, took letters sent to the group, got fully involved in the activities (including giving out anti-McDonald's leaflets) and invented spurious reasons to find out people's addresses. One spy (Michelle Hooker) even had a 6-month love affair with one of the activists. Another, Allan Claire broke into the office of London Greenpeace and took a series of photographs.
At some London Greenpeace meetings there were as many spies as campaigners present and, as McDonald's didn't tell each agency about the other, the spies were busily spying on each other (the court later heard how Allan Claire, had noted the behaviour of Brian Bishop, another spy, as 'suspicious').
Not all the spies were unaffected by the experience: Fran Tiller 'felt very uncomfortable' doing the job and 'disliked the deception, prying on people and interfering with their lives'. She later gave evidence for the defendants in the trial, stating 'I didn't think there was anything wrong with what the group was doing' and 'I believe people are entitled to their views'.
In 1990 McDonald's served libel writs on 5 volunteers in the group over the 'What's Wrong With McDonald's?' leaflet. They offered a stark choice: retract the allegations made in the leaflet and apologise, or go to court.
There is no Legal Aid (public money) for libel cases, but the five did get two hours free legal advice. Which boiled down to: the legal procedures in libel are extremely complex and weighted against defendants, you'll incur huge costs, with no money or legal experience you'll have no chance against McDonald's legal team, you probably won't even get past the legal obstacles before the full trial. In short: back out and apologise while you've got the chance. One of the barristers that they met at this time, Keir Starmer, said that if they decide to fight he will back them up for free.
Three of the five took the advice and reluctantly apologised. Which left Steel and Morris. Dave's partner and his very young son had had a bad accident and he was nursing them single-handed (he and his partner later split up and Dave became a full-time single father). He said he would go along with whatever Helen decided.
"It just really stuck in the throat to apologise to McDonald's. I thought it was them that should have been apologising to us - well not us specifically, but to society for the damage they do to society and the environment" - Helen Steel.
Unlike anyone McDonald's had ever sued for libel before, Helen and Dave decided that they would stand up to the burger giants in court. They knew each other well from their involvement in community based campaigns in their local North London neighbourhood and felt that although the odds were stacked against them, people would rally round to ensure that McDonald's wouldn't succeed in silencing their critics.
Long before you get to trial, there are an enormous number of preliminary hearings and procedures that have to be completed. First, Helen and Dave had to prepare their Defence - a detailed response to McDonald's Statement of Claim. Then there are several rounds of 'Further and Better Particulars of Justification and Fair Comment' to complete.
Meanwhile, the McLibel Support Campaign was set up to generate solidarity and financial support for Helen and Dave. Over the next few years they would raise more than £35,000 to pay for witness airfares, court costs, expenses and so on - every penny coming from donations from the public. Helen and Dave would only claim some travel and administration expenses (photocopying, phone calls to witnesses etc) - they were determined that they would never take a penny for themselves.
In 1991 the defendants took the British government to the European Court of Human Rights to demand the right to legal aid or the simplification of libel procedures. Paradoxically, the court ruled that, as the defendants had put up a "tenacious defence", they could not say they were being denied access to justice. They lost the application.
Meanwhile, back in the UK High Court, legal battles were raging between the two sides over McDonald's refusal to disclose all the relevant documents in its possession. McDonald's barrister argued that the defence case was very weak, that Helen and Dave would not be able to produce evidence to support it, so large parts of it should be dismissed and therefore there was no need for McDonald's to hand over the documents. The Judge overturned normal procedures (whereby documents are disclosed before exchange of witness statements) and ruled that the defendants had three weeks to produce witness statements.
To everyone's surprise, Helen and Dave came back with sixty five statements. McDonald's then took the unusual step of bringing in a top lawyer at this pre-trial stage: employing Richard Rampton QC, one of Britain's top libel lawyers for a reputed fee of £2000 a day plus a 6-figure briefing fee. Their legal team now comprised Rampton, his junior barrister, solicitor Patti Brinley-Codd, at least five solicitors and assistants from leading city law firm Barlow, Lyde and Gilbert and even someone to carry Rampton's files. Helen and Dave were representing themselves, with occasional back-up from Keir Starmer. At this time Mr Justice Bell, who untimately presided over the full McLibel trial, took over the pre-trial hearings.
Undaunted by events in court, on 16th October 1993 the McLibel Support Campaign organised a National March Against McDonald's. About 500 protesters marched through Central London in support of the right to criticise multinationals and to demonstrate their anger at McDonald's activities both in and out of court. Pickets also took place outside many of McDonald's stores around the country.
In late 1993 Richard Rampton started to prove why he is paid so much money. He applied for the trial to be heard by a judge only, arguing that the scientific evidence necessary to examine the links between diet and disease are too complicated for the ordinary people of a jury to understand. This was despite the obvious fact that the defendants themselves are ordinary people with no scientific training.
The judge ruled in favour of McDonald's saying that it would be too complex for lay people to adjudicate some of the issues, and it could be tried more 'conveniently' without a jury. The trial would now be heard by a single judge: a major blow to the defendants as it is very likely that a jury would be more sympathetic. They may even have been outraged that the case was ever brought at all.
McDonald's also applied for an order striking out certain parts of the Defence on the grounds that the witness statements gathered by the defendants did not sufficiently support those areas of the defence. The judge agreed to strike out the entire rainforest section and many of the pleadings relating to Trade Union disputes in other countries around the world.
Dave Morris and Helen Steel applied unsuccessfully to the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords to reinstate the jury. However, in a landmark legal decision, the Court of Appeal restored all parts of the defence struck out by the Judge, on the basis that the defendants are entitled to rely not only on their own witnesses' statements, but also those from McDonald's witnesses, the future discovery of McDonald's documents and on what they might reasonably expect to discover under cross-examination of the company's witnesses.
Steel and Morris prepared to prove that the statements in the allegedly libellous leaflet were true or fair comment. Defendants are required under British libel law to provide 'primary sources' of evidence to substantiate their case. This means witness statements and documentary proof rather than press reports, common knowledge or even scientific journals.
Just before the trial proper was due to start, in March 1994, McDonald's produced 300,000 copies of a leaflet to distribute to their customers via their burger outlets. The leaflet stated that "This action is not about freedom of speech; it is about the right to stop people telling lies.". The company also issued press releases in a similar vein. In a neat legal move, Helen and Dave issued a counter claim against McDonald's over the accusation that the company's critics (including them) are liars. This meant that, as well as the defendants having to prove that the criticisms made in the 'What's Wrong With McDonald's' leaflet are true, McDonald's would now have to prove they are false (and that the defendants knew they were false) if they wanted to win the counterclaim. As it turned out, however, the Judge did not run the trial in this way.
June 28th 1994 and the full libel trial finally started in Court 35 of the Royal Courts of Justice, London. It was presided over by Mr Justice Bell, a new Judge with almost no experience of libel.
The first witness was Paul Preston, McDonald's UK President ("Mr Big Mac, if you like"). 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 has often been quoted as saying: "McDonald's isn't a job, it's a life" and that "McDonald's employees have ketchup in their veins."
The contested allegations made in the leaflet can be divided into seven broad categories: nutrition, rainforests, recycling and waste, employment, food poisoning, animals and publication (ie did Steel and Morris publish the leaflet). The witnesses did not appear in order of these issues, though, although generally the trial progressed with first the Plaintiffs' witnesses and then the Defence ones, issue by issue. (See evidence for detailed analysis of the evidence given in court.)
Meanwhile, questions were being asked in the UK parliament. Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn sponsored two Early Day Motions called 'McDonald's and Censorship' in which he said that "this House opposes the routine use of libel writs as a form of censorship" and that "apologies and damages have been obtained under false pretences after McDonald's lied about their practices". Serious stuff.
The nutrition section of the case got off to a flying start with a contrast between McDonald's internal company memo: "We can't really address or defend nutrition. We don't sell nutrition and people don't come to McDonald's for nutrition." and one of their public leaflets: "Every time you eat at McDonald's, you'll eat good, nutritious food." Defence witness Tim Lobstein testifies that McDonald's concept of a balanced diet is "meaningless". "You could eat a roll of sellotape as part of a balanced diet" he says.
Classic Court Moment number 1 came on September 12th 1994 when McDonald's expert witness on cancer, Dr Sydney Arnott, inadvertently admitted that one of the most contentious statements made in the leaflet is a "very reasonable thing to say".
Around this time the defendants received a most unexpected message: McDonald's wanted to meet them to discuss a settlement. Shelby Yastrow and Dick Starmann, two Senior Vice-Presidents of McDonald's, fly over from Chicago and meet with Helen and Dave in a solicitor's office in London. McDonald's said they will drop the suit and pay a substantial sum to a third party if the defendants agree never to publicly criticise McDonald's again. Helen and Dave said they wanted an undertaking from McDonald's not to sue anyone for making similar criticisms again and for the company to apologise to those they've sued in the past. No deal, so back to court..
By Autumn 94 the court was listening to evidence on McDonald's advertising techniques and part of their confidential Operation Manual was read out in court. "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."
On day 102 in court - March 13th 1995 - McLibel became the longest ever UK libel trial, beating the previous record of 101 days in the Daily Mail vs The Moonies . The court was hearing evidence on food poisoning and animal welfare.
Around this time an Australian documentary team receives a leaked confidential McDonald's Australia memo which details their strategy for dealing with media interest in the McLibel case. It includes such gems as "we could worsen the controversy by adding our opinion" and "we want to keep it at arms length - not become guilty by association"
Meanwhile, McDonald's shareholders were getting upset. At the Annual General Meeting in Chicago, Michael Quinlan, Chair and Chief Executive, said the case would be "coming to a wrap soon". It actually lasted two more years.
June 28th 1995 and the trial celebrated its first anniversary, with a birthday cake and picket outside the court.
Before the trial started McDonald's had made an agreement with the Judge and with Helen and Dave to pay for daily transcripts of the court to be made, and to give copies to all parties. In July of 1995 they said that they were withdrawing this agreement unless the defendants agreed to stop giving quotes to the press. Helen and Dave considered this to be a crude attempt by McDonald's to stop the swell of negative publicity based on quotes from the transcripts - especially admissions obtained during their cross examination of McDonald's witnesses. McDonald's said that it was to stop Helen and Dave distorting what their witnesses had said. The McLibel Support Campaign launched an appeal to raise the £35,000 needed to pay for transcripts for the remainder of the trial (£425 per day).
America finally woke up to the trial with a front page feature article in the Wall Street Journal headlined 'Activists put McDonald's on Grill', a rash of newspaper and magazine articles and four minutes on prime time CBS National News.
In June 1995, at McDonald's request, the two sides meet again for more settlement negotiations. This time in a pub in Central London. McDonald's repeat that they can't possibly agree to never sue anyone again. Helen and Dave repeat that they can't possibly agree not to criticise McDonald's any more. The talks fail and the trial continues.
By October 1995 the court was listening to evidence on McDonald's employment practices - over 30 ex-employees and trade union officials and activists from around the world would be called. Media highlights include allegations of racism, cooking in a kitchen flooded with sewage, watering down products, illegal hours worked, underage staff employed, fiddling of time cards and obsessive anti-union practices. The trial got its first front page tabloid article.
McLibel notched up another one for the record books on December 11th 1995 as it became the longest civil case (as opposed to criminal) in British history.
The greatest moment of the whole case, campaign and possibly the history of the planet came on February 16th 1996 when Helen and Dave launch the McSpotlight internet site from a laptop connected to the internet via a mobile phone outside a McDonald's store in Central London. The website was accessed more than a million times in its first month, of which 2,700 are from a computer called 'mcdonalds.com'.
Between February and April of that year the court heard evidence on one of the most controversial allegations in the leaflet: that McDonald's are responsible for the destruction of rainforest in Central and South America to make way for cattle pasture. Witness Sue Brandford, appearing for the defence, testified that she visited one of the particular areas in Brazil under contention 20 years ago and that it was rainforest then. The Judge says that this is the most important evidence heard so far on this issue.
The Defendants were by now completely exhausted, but were refused an adjournment for rest.
Around this time the Judge denied the defendants leave to appeal over his decision to allow McDonald's to change their Statement of Claim (original case against Morris and Steel) regarding the issues of nutrition and animal welfare. The Court of Appeal also refused them leave to appeal.
After rainforests, came publication. Did Helen and Dave produce or distribute the factsheet? If McDonald's did not manage to prove this then their whole case would fall apart. (Yes, it probably would have been more sensible to do this before listening to two years of evidence, but, on McDonald's application, the judge had decided that it would be heard last).
The majority of McDonald's case on publication relied on the spies who had been paid to infiltrate the London Greenpeace meetings in the '80s. Four of them came to give evidence for McDonald's. But, in one of the great twists of the trial, another one, Fran Tiller, appeared on behalf of Helen and Dave. She testified that she "did not think there was anything wrong with what the group was doing". Three of the spies admitted distributing the leaflet and so the Defendants claimed McDonald's had consented to its publication.
In May 1996 McDonald's UK President Paul Preston was recalled into the witness box for another 4 days cross-examination. He took the responsibility (many will say blame) for bringing the case and faced a sustained challenge over alleged company lies to the court and the public in recent years.
In June the trial celebrated its second anniversary with a Ronald McDonald cake outside court.
The last witness to give evidence in the trial was Helen Steel herself, who was cross-examined by Richard Rampton. Dave Morris decided not to give evidence, which is a right of defendants. He argued that McDonald's had failed to make a case against him - they could not come up with a single incident of him distributing the leaflet. On July 17th 1996 the court closed with all the evidence completed. Each side now had just three months to write their closing speeches - analysing 40,000 pages of documentary evidence, 20,000 pages of transcript testimony and dealing with many complex legal arguments and submissions - in order to present their final case. In fact, Rampton and the Judge agreed that one month of this time should be used for everyone to take a well needed break from the case.
During the summer holidays of 1996 it was Dave Morris's son's turn to experience McDonald's marketing techniques first hand. The corporation donated £500 to Charlie's playcentre and brought Ronald McDonald and twelve officials down to their summer FunDay. Dave Morris and other parents were furious, saying that the event had been "hijacked for publicity purposes". As it turned out, the publicity backfired on McDonald's. John Vidal (author of the McLibel book) was present and wrote a front-page piece for the Guardian and One-Off Productions filmed the event for their hour-long documentary about the trial.
In fact the Corporation was receiving increasingly bad publicity now, and as the trial progressed campaigners were stepping up their protests against McDonald's worldwide. In particular, 'What's Wrong with McDonald's?' leaflets were becoming probably the most famous and widely distributed protest leaflets in history.
The two sides returned to court in October to start the closing speeches. The Judge turned down the defendants' request for either more time to prepare or for McDonald's to go first with the closing speeches. The defendants argued that they were unprepared and couldn't hope to analyse even half the testimony in the time available. They also argued that they had no experience in what should be included and since McDonald's were represented by experience lawyers they should go first. The Judge said no and a few weeks later the Court of Appeal refused to give the Defendants leave to appeal against the Judge's ruling.
Helen and Dave started their closing speeches on October 21st and carried on for a massive 6 weeks. This surely has to be one of the longest speeches ever made in history, not least because....
....two weeks later, on November 1st 1996 (court day 292), McLibel becomes the longest trial of any kind in English history. The longest trial before then was the Tichborne personation case which lasted 291 days, ending in 1874. The Guinness Book of Records took note.
Richard Rampton QC, for McDonald's, decided to present his Closing Speech in written form and handed his 5-volume document to the Judge on November 28th 1996. All that remained was a few days of legal arguments. The defendants argued that the UK libel laws are oppressive and unfair, particularly (in this case) the denial of Legal Aid and a jury trial and that multinational corporations should no longer be allowed to sue their critics in order to silence them over issues of public interest. They cited European and US laws which would debar such a case and also recent developments in UK law debarring governmental bodies from suing for libel. It was further argued that the McLibel case was beyond all 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 was the last day of final submissions. 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."
The media frenzy continued as the Judge deliberated, with Channel 4 TV news stating that the McLibel case was considered to be 'The biggest Corporate PR disaster in history'. In early February Macmillan published their hardback book of the trial 'McLibel - Burger Culture on Trial' by John Vidal (part written by the Defendants, whose names were removed from the cover on legal advice!). On the first anniversary of its launch, on 16th February, McSpotlight doubled in size overnight with the addition of all the official court transcripts. In May, Channel 4 broadcast 'McLibel!', a 3 1/2 hour (!) reconstruction of the case. As far as McDonald's attempts to suppress debate over the matters raised in the leaflets and the trial, the cat was now so far out of the bag it had disappeared over the horizon.
But things were going well for the Corporation too: in April they announced that "systemwide sales exceeded $30 billion for the first time, and net income crossed the $1.5 billion threshold".
Despite the build-up in the proceeding weeks, no-one had any inkling of the scale of the media attention on Judgement Day - 19th June 1997. Helen and Dave had three TV crews filming them on the (packed) rush-hour tube journey to court and more than 30 waiting outside the courtroom. By the time the Judge had delivered his verdict, this had grown to well over 50 media teams and over a hundred supporters.
Mr Justice Bell took two hours to read his summary to a packed court room. He ruled that Helen and Dave had not proved the allegations against McDonald's on rainforest destruction, heart disease and cancer, food poisoning, starvation in the Third World and bad working conditions. But they had proved that McDonald's "exploit children" with their advertising, falsely advertise their food as nutritious, risk the health of their most regular, long-term customers, are "culpabably responsible" for cruelty to animals, are "strongly antipathetic" to unions and pay their workers low wages.
NB. 'Not proved' does not mean that the allegations against McDonald's are not true, just that the Judge felt that Helen and Dave did not bring sufficient evidence to prove the meanings he had attributed to the leaflet.
The Judge ruled that Helen and Dave had libelled McDonald's, but as they had proved many of the allegations, they would only owe half of the claimed damages: £60,000.
Helen eloquently summarised the defendants' response, "McDonald's don't deserve a penny and in any event we haven't got any money." McDonald's had 4 weeks to decide whether they were going to pursue their costs and the injunction which they had originally set out to obtain back in September 1990.
Press interest was at a peak around the day of the verdict. McSpotlight was accessed 2.2 million times and their volunteers started work on a CD-ROM version of the site. John Vidal set to work preparing the paperback version of the book. One-Off Productions completed their documentary ready for video distribution and sale to international networks. The defendants conducted back-to-back media interviews for three days, but declined the offer of a seat on the sofa next to 'Richard and Judy' (UK TV show).
Two days after the verdict Helen and Dave were leafleting outside McDonald's again, in defiance of any injunction McDonald's might serve. They weren't alone: over 400,000 leaflets were distributed outside 500 of McDonald's 750 UK stores, and solidarity protests were held in over a dozen countries.
Meanwhile,The Sunday Times (UK) reported that Ed Rensi, President of
the McDonald's Corporation, had, along with his staff, been removed as
Chief Executive following falling US market share, promotional flops and
McDonald's dropped their claim for costs as well as their intention of getting an injunction (meaning that if Helen and Dave continued to distribute the leaflets it would be a contempt of court, for which they could be jailed). Although this was a sensible move, PR-wise (as the defendants had already stated that they would defy any injunction) it signalled a clear admission of defeat. The securing of damages and an injunction had the corporation's two aims in starting proceedings (as detailed in their Statement of Claim). They are now claiming that they were only interested in establishing the truth (for example, that they exploit children).
Two months after the verdict the defendants' Appeal was safely lodged. Helen and Dave argued that the trial was unfair and the libel laws oppressive, that the defence evidence on all of the issues was overwhelming, and that in any case Mr Justice Bell's findings against the corporation were so damaging to their reputation that the case should have been found in the defendants' favour overall.
After a short break to recover from the stress of the trial, the defendants would have to start extensive preparations anew...
Meanwhile the global protests and the distribution of London Greenpeace leaflets continued to grow - including a week of action around Anti-McDonald's Day in October 1997.
Pre-appeal hearings - and legal arguments and disputes - took place throughout 1998 in front of three Lord Justices. The Appeal itself finally started on 12th January 1999, ending on 31st March 1999 - entailing 24 days of complex legal argument and detailed dissection of the main trial evidence and verdict. The defendants represented themselves, opposed by the usual McSuspects on the other side of the room - Richard Rampton, Tim Atkinson and Patti Brinley-Codd.
McDonald's, on the other hand, did not appeal against any of the rulings made against them. In fact, they had conceded in writing on 5th January 1999 that the trial Judge had been 'correct in his conclusions'. But the defendants had prepared over 700 pages of legal submissions.
On 31st March 1999 Lord Justices Pill, May and Keane announced their appeal verdict in 309 pages. The controversy continued as they added to the findings already made against McDonald's. They ruled that it was true that McDonald's regular customers faced an increased risk of heart disease and that it was fair comment to say McDonald's workers worldwide suffer poor pay and conditions.
The McLibel 2 felt that, although the battle with McDonald's was
now largely won, it was important to continue to push for an outright
legal victory and for changes in the libel laws. On 31st July 1999 they
had lodged a 43
point petition to the House of Lords for Leave to Appeal further. This
was rejected and so, in September 2000 -10 years after McDonald's served
the original writs - Helen and Dave launched an action against the
British Government at the
European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
So began 'Steel and Morris vs UK'
In 1998 the defendants also sued the Metropolitan Police for giving personal information (including their names and home addresses) to McDonald's agents. In July 2000, in order to avoid what they called 'a difficult and lengthy trial', the Met agreed to pay £10,000 to the McLibel 2, plus their legal costs.
The full McLibel ECHR application (173 pages)
The full McLibel ECHR application (173 pages)was lodged on 2nd April 2001, followed up by further particulars in 2002 as requested by the Court.
The McLibel Support Campaign issued a press release in July 2003, stating: Whatever happens in Strasbourg, the McLibel campaign has already demonstrated that a determined and widespread campaign of grass roots defiance and non-cooperation can render oppressive laws unworkable. The continually growing opposition to McDonald's and all it stands for is a vindication of all the efforts of those around the world who have been exposing and challenging the corporation's business practices.
In May 2004, five years after the McLibel 2 last appeared in Court for their appeal, Helen and Dave were notified that the European Court had declared admissable their claim that the McLibel trial breached their Article 6 right to a fair trial and Article 10 right to freedom of expression.
On 18th August 2004 the McLibel 2 completed their Applicant's Summary/Memorial for the European Court Hearing. The case was heard in full on 7th September 2004.
On 15th February 2005, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg declared that the mammoth McLibel case was in breach of the right to a fair trial and right to freedom of expression.
The European Court ruled that UK laws had failed to protect the public’s right to criticise massive corporations whose business practices can affect people’s lives, health and the environment. Read the full verdict.
While all these legal disputes were continuing, opposition to McDonald's did likewise - during 1999 this included dramatic protests by local residents, French farmers and the first unionisation of a McStore in North America. On October 16th 1999 there were protests in 345 towns in 23 countries. Campaigners in China exposed the dangerous and oppressive conditions for workers producing 'Happy Meal' toys for McDonald's global use.
March 2002. A panel of 8 public relations professionals brought together by UK marketing industry magazine 'PR Week' declared that the 'McLibel' case and campaign was 9th out of a Top 20 of the most effective public relations 'consumer facing' campaigns (mostly UK based) of all time.
In October 2002, for the first time, many McDonald's workers joined in the Day of Action, inspired by a call from the growing international McDonald's Workers Resistance network. Meanwhile McDonald's was being increasingly targeted for contributing to the growing problems of obsesity in the industrialised world - in the US, some very high profile law suits were lodged against them in 2002-3, receiving global publicity.
By the summer of 2003 McSpotlight had been accessed 184,675,000 times.
McDonald's UK announced their largest ever drop in profits (71% in 2003). Profits dropped from a high of £104.3 million in 2001, to £83.8 million in 2002, and sharply to £23.6 million in 2003.
During 2004 public concern over the growing obesity crisis led to official calls for bans on the marketing of junk food to children. McDonald's was identified as the number one culprit. A US documentary film - 'Supersize Me' - about the effects of overeating McDonald's food received enormous publicity and was viewed by tens of millions of people.
In September 2004 the McLibel 2 travelled to Strasbourg to make their application to the European Court of Human Rights - their case was argued in court by Keir Starmer QC. The UK government defended UK libel laws, claiming the trial was fair.
On 15th February 2005 the European Court declared that the mammoth McLibel case was in breach of the right to a fair trial and right to freedom of expression - mainly due to the unavailability of legal aid for defamation cases. The McLibel 2, Helen Steel and Dave Morris, held a victorious press Conference outside McDonald's in The Strand, Central London. The Strand was chosen to mark 20 years of growing protests against McDonald's since the first ever 'Day of Action against McDonald’s' on Jan 19th 1985, when London Greenpeace had protested at the site. This event gained extensive media coverage around the world.
On 15th April 2005, to mark 50 years to the day since the McDonald's Corporation it opened its first store (Des Plaines, Illinois, USA), there was a protest outside McDonald's Euro-HQ in Finchley, North London. Dave Morris stamped on a McBirthday cake with 'PUBLIC OPINION' written on his shoe, Helen Steel held a placard saying '50 YEARS OF McJUNK, McJOBS, McLITTER' alongside campaigners with a banner saying 'CELEBRATE 20 YEARS OF GLOBAL RESISTANCE TO McWORLD'.
The night before McDonald's 50th Birthday, April 14th, the BBC had finally broadcast Franny Armstrong's 'McLibel' documentary, which had been updated and expanded by Spanner Films over the previous 6 months.
In the evening, 100 people attended a McLibel Support Campaign anti-McBirthday party/event. The event saw the launch of the double-DVD of McLibel with an additional 4 hours footage documenting the long battle. After a discussion about how the government and corporations were now using a range of new laws to undermine a whole range of protests in the UK it was agreed to call a 'Freedom To Protest' conference so that all groups affected could support each other and launch a major co-ordinated fightback.
Following a huge response from the public after the broadcast on BBC4, the BBC finally broadcast the McLibel documentary on their mainstream channel (available to everyone in the UK) on June 5th 2005 at 10.30pm. The newspapers unanimaously chose the programme as 'Pick of the Day'. The Guardian called it "Absolutely unmissable", the Sunday Times said it was "The sort of film Michael Moore probably thinks he makes" and The Times said "Freedom of speech rarely tasted so satisfying". Following the broadcast, McSpotlight hosted a live webchat with Helen, Dave, Franny and various members of the film crew.
The McLibel documentary will be released in the cinema in America on June 10th by Cinema Libre.
Helen and Dave are currently both actively involved in local community groups and campaigns in North London. They have written a comprehensive summing up of the whole case and campaign 'McLibel:
Do It Yourself Justice'.