Chief Justice Bell's 800 page judgement was handed down on Thursday 19th June 1997 after his presentation of the Summary - the whole judgement is presented here for your enjoyment.
11. Summary of the main findings on the Plaintiffs' claims.
Firstly, section 5 of the Defamation Act,l952, provides that in an action for libel like this action, where the Plaintiffs' claims have been brought in respect of words containing distinct charges, the Defendants_ defence of justification shall not fail by reason only that the truth of every charge is not proved, if the words not proved to be true do not materially injure the Plaintiffs_ reputations having regard to the truth of the remaining charges. So I must ask whether that provision saves the Defendants in the light of the findings which I have made.
Secondly, I must move on to the Defendants' counterclaims which are essentially based on the Second Plaintiff_s public accusation of lying in the leaflet. A fundamental issue there, is the extent to which the Defendants have published untruths.
In summary, comparing my findings with the defamatory messages in the leaflet, of which the Plaintiffs actually complained, it was and is untrue to say that either Plaintiff has been to blame for starvation in the Third World. It was and is untrue to say that they have bought vast tracts of land or any farming land in the Third World, or that they have caused the eviction of small farmers or anyone else from their land.
It was and is untrue to say that either Plaintiff has been guilty of destruction of rainforest, thereby causing wanton damage to the environment.
It was and is untrue to say that either of the Plaintiffs have used lethal poisons to destroy vast areas or any areas of Central American rainforest, or that they have forced tribal people in the rainforest off their ancestral territories.
It was and is untrue to say that either Plaintiff has lied when it has claimed to have used recycled paper.
The charge that McDonald's food is very unhealthy because it is high in fat, sugar, animal products and salt (sodium), and low in fibre, vitamins and minerals, and because eating it more than just occasionally may well make your diet high in fat, sugar, animal products and salt (sodium), and low in fibre, vitamins and minerals, with the very real, that is to say serious or substantial risk that you will suffer cancer of the breast or bowel or heart disease as a result, and that McDonald_s know this but they do not make it clear, is untrue. However, various of the First and Second Plaintiffs_ advertisements, promotions and booklets have pretended to a positive nutritional benefit which McDonald_s food, high in fat and saturated fat and animal products and sodium, and at one time low in fibre, did not match.
It was true to say that the Plaintiffs exploit children by using them as more susceptible subjects of advertising, to pressurise their parents into going to McDonald_s. Although it was true to say that they use gimmicks and promote the consumption of meals at McDonald_s as a fun event, it was not true to say that they use the gimmicks to cover up the true quality of their good or that they promote them as a fun event when they know that the contents of their meals could poison the children who eat them.
Although some of the particular allegations made about the rearing and slaughter of animals are not true it was true to say, overall, that the Plaintiffs are culpably responsible for cruel practices in the rearing and slaughter of some of the animals which are used to produce their food.
It was and is untrue to say that the Plaintiffs sell meat products which, as they must know, expose their customers to a serious risk of food poisoning.
The charge that the Plaintiffs provide bad working conditions has not been justified, although some of the Plaintiffs' working conditions are unsatisfactory. The charge that the Plaintiffs are only interested in recruiting cheap labour and that they exploit disadvantaged groups, women and black people especially as a result, has not been justified. It was true to say that the Second Plaintiff pays its workers low wages and thereby helps to depress wages for workers in the catering trade in Britain, but it has not been proved that the First Plaintiff pays its workers low wages. The overall sting of low wages for bad working conditions has not been justified.
It was and is untrue to say that the Plaintiffs have a policy of preventing unionisation by getting rid of pro-union workers.
Looking back with that bird_s eye view of my conclusions on the separate sections and charges made in the leaflet complained of, in my judgment it is quite clear that the Plaintiff_s reputations must be materially injured by the unjustified charges, despite the defamatory charges which have been shown to be true, to the Plaintiffs' detriment.
In my view the unjustified allegation of blame for starvation in the Third World was and is particularly serious for a multinational corporation such as the Plaintiff, based in the U.S.A., and for any large subsidiary company, like the second Plaintiff, based in a well-fed, even over-fed country like the U.K. The unjustified allegation of destruction of rainforest was and is particularly serious in environmentally conscious times. It is obvious that the unjustified allegations of knowingly selling food with a serious risk of damaging their customers' health, are particularly damaging to companies who run one of the best known catering businesses in this country where publication of the libel is complained of.
In my judgment, those and the other charges, or parts of charges, which have not been justified, materially injure the Plaintiffs' trading reputations, even giving full weight to the matters which have been shown to be true, distinct charges or not. It follows that the Defendants are not saved by section 5 of the 1952 Act, and that the Plaintiff_s must succeed on their claims for damages against both Defendants. I will return to the assessment of damages after considering the Defendants_ counterclaims.