I READ THE other day the melancholy statement that when
it comes to planning applications McDonald's always win,
because they have more money than anyone else. Their tricks include hiring expensive lawyers to
use prolonging tactics till the opposition runs out of funds.
Thus, some councils no longer bother to
oppose them, but surrender and save their cash.
All of which makes it all the more delightful to read that they have met their match in a penniless pair called Helen Steel and Dave Morris, who have kept McDonald's at bay in the longest running civil case in British history. For those who have missed it in the press, it is a libel suit. In the manner of R Maxwell (deceased) McDonald's pounced upon Helen. Dave and others, ordering them to recant, repent, and withdraw leaflets they were handing out, upon pain of a libel action and bankruptcy. To which the dauntless pair replied that as they had no money McDonald's could sue and be damned to them.
So, on 28th June 1994, on behalf of McDonald's, Mr Richard Rampton QC strode into court (or trotted perhaps - I don t know if he is big or little) complete with a train of admiring junior barristers, intent on knocking the stuffing out of Helen and Dave. Much of the stuffing so far seems to have been the other way about. The case has cost McDonald's the best part of £2 million and a wealth of bad publicity, but Hand D with no case, no legal aid and starting with no knowledge of the law, give every bit as good as they get.
Although they have no money they have expenses, for instance in fetching witnesses from America, so I have enrolled among their admirers and send them small sums of money from time to time. For this I am more than repaid by a news sheet with details of their various triumphs - such as issuing Lord Vestey with a subpoena and making him confess that, although he had written a letter saying the beef he was supplying 'was not coming from reclaimed land from destroyed rain forests', in respect of 90 per cent of it he hadn't a clue where it came from.
There has been so much excitement that I cannot repeat it all, but two points strike me as particularly choice. H and D alleged that McDonald's advertising was misleading, and in support produced this statement, dated 1987: The Attorneys General of Texas, California and New York have concluded our joint review of the McDonald's recent advert campaign which claims that McDonalds food is nutritious. Our mutual conclusion is that this advertising campaign is deceptive. We therefore request that McDonald's immediately cease and desist further use of this advertising campaign. The reason for this is simple: McDonald's food is, as a whole, not nutritious. The intent and result of the current campaign is to deceive customers into belie the opposite. Fast food customers often choose to go to McDonalds because it is inexpensive and convenient. They should no be fooled into eating there because you have told them it is also nutritious.'
Did you ever see such a slap-up knockdown no-nonsense piece of prose coming from, of all people, three senior law filers' Can you possibly imagine the Solicitor General the Attorney General and the Master of the Rolls putting their heads together and producing such a straightforward statement that? 'No'. you will say, and I agree.
McDonald's was thrown into such a panic that they hired private detectives to infiltrate H and D and their friends. The most in thing, though, is not that McDonald's were reduced to this sort of thing but that Special Branch helped them! Sid Nicholson, McDonald's UK vice president, confessed that when McDonald's were picketed in October 1989, a Special Branch officer stood by him passing him information on individuals in the crowd. So that is what Special Branch does! I thought they caught criminals and terrorists, but not so - they furl about looking for people like Auberon Waugh making rude remarks about hamburger gases.
No doubt, Mr Richard Rampton QC regards H and D as a pair of nice little earnersear net but I imagine they inspire McDonald's with mixture of terror and loathing. For which rear I earnestly hope they will set up as consultants, as every planning officer in the country will wish to retain them and their fortunes will be made. Meanwhile, full details of their glorious undertaking can be got by writing to the McLibel Support Campaign, 5 Caledonian Road, London N1 9DX - always assuming that the Special Branch men pass on the letters after they have steamed them open.