Fast-food giant McDonald's won a record-breaking libel case against two vegetarian activists yesterday, although the judge said some of the criticisms of the company were correct.
In a 313-day trial, the longest civil case heard in an Englishcourt, Justice Rodger Bell heard testimony from 180 witnesses before announcing he had decided to award McDonald's damages of #60,000 (HK$757,000). The "McLibel" trial is estimated to have cost McDonald's #10 million.
"The majority of the defamatory statements I found to be untrue. Others were true," Mr Justice Bell said in a two-hour summing up of his three-volume, 800-page judgment.
The six-page pamphlet, produced in 1984 by unemployed ex-postman Dave Morris and part-time bar worker Helen Steel, accused McDonald's of abusing animals, workers and the environment, causing starvation in developing countries and promoting an unhealthy diet.
The judge found the claims largely untrue, but did agree that McDonald's paid low wages - although its workers were not badly treated - and was responsible for cruel treatment of animals, including laying hens kept in small cages their entire lives, and other chickens that are conscious as their throats are cut.
Morris, 43, and Steel, 31, were unable to pay for lawyers in the defence of their case, and had to formulate their own legal defence.
They are thought to be unable to pay the damages. A company official said: "We're not going to bankrupt them."
After the hearing, Morris and Steel immediately began handing out the offending pamphlet, "What's wrong with McDonald's", to crowds gathered outside the law courts.
Morris said they had lost the case on a technicality and vowed to take their fight to the European Court of Human Rights to challenge Britain's "oppressive" libel laws.
McDonald's executive Paul Preston said the company had "brought this case to protect a reputation trusted by millions of customers every day". He said he was "broadly satisfied" with the judgment, but was worried about the time the case took.