Interview

Dave Morris reveals his experiences of the trials of McLibel and how it feels to face Goliath.



Dave Morris is a member of London Greenpeace and one of the McLibel defendants. The rest, as they say, is history.

Other relevant links

Note:Interviewed by One-Off Productions for their documentary about the trial, just before the verdict came out

[ david and helen ]

Could you just tell us how you got involved with London Greenpeace in the `80's and why?

I think I first got involved with London Greenpeace, at the end of the `70's, when they were one of the first groups to be campaigning against nuclear energy - something I felt strongly about at the time. And then when the Falklands War started they again were one of the main groups opposing both sides in the war, and that's something that attracted me, and that's when I really started getting involved on a regular basis.

It helps to be active in a local area on a small person-to-person basis if you can also see the wider picture of what's really going on in the world.

Was being involved in a group like London Greenpeace contributing to some form of struggle?

Well my main activity's always been in the area where I live, in Tottenham,because you come in contact with your neighbours and there's lots of very basic bread and butter issues of housing and unemployment .. and things like that. But I felt there was also a need to be involved with a group that was kind of global in it's perspective in what it was concerned about.

It helps to be active in a local area on a small person-to-person basis if you can also see the wider picture of what's really going on in the world. London Greenpeace was that kind of group that dealt with big issues - campaigning against the existence of national borders,looking at the city of London and the financial institutions that run the world, wars, that kind of stuff, so being involved with London Greenpeace was complementary to the activity I was involved with in Tottenham.

So could you just describe some of the activities you did in London Greenpeace and say how you think that could have any effect on the rest of the world?

Well, I think that the activities of London Greenpeace are predominantly educational raising questions, spreading ideas, encouraging people to think about things fundamentally, not just the day to day survival issues that people get bogged down in. Also looking at how the world is organised, the alternatives, what can people do about them ultimately, transforming society from the present badly organised oppressive and destructive one into something positive. So, giving out leaflets, encouraging people to think about the kind of society they're in is a very positive contribution that anyone could make.

You can only give leaflets to a very few people. What can that achieve?

I think giving out leaflets brings you into direct contact with people passing by in the street. It's a very immediate form of dealing with basic ideas - people can stop and have a chat, they can see that you're a human being. Whereas, for example, people getting things from television or from books, there's no real communication. I think that the success of campaigns based upon mass leafleting - such as the anti-McDonald's campaign - is because there's a real communication going on between, the people doing the leaflets and the people receiving them.


[ dave phoned ]

And also because you're actually outside McDonald's people can relate immediately the ideas about food, about workers, about animals, with where they're standing. I've always found a really interested and focussed kind of response from the public getting these leaflets. They want to know more, they want to read them, they don't drop them in the street. It's been a very exciting campaign to be part of the whole time.

Before the writs were served over the 'What's Wrong With McDoanld's' leaflet, how important was the anti-McDonald's campaign in the scheme of London Greenpeace's activities?

London Greenpeace has campaigned over a wide range of issues but I think the most successful campaign by far was the campaign against McDonald's. It just hit a chord with the public because McDonald's has a kind of special place in the psychology of the public - because of their advertising, because of their image, because they're dealing with something so basic as food. By going behind that image and dealing with the issues that McDonald's really stands for - how that food gets made and how they attract their customers into the store through their advertising - hit a big chord.

People object to their kids being subjected to this kind of relentless advertising. People object to jobs with such low pay and with no rights.

People object to their kids being subjected to this kind of relentless advertising. People object to jobs with such low pay and with no rights. All the issues hit to the heart of what people are thinking about when they think about McDonald's. From the beginning it was clear it was very successful. It made you want to go and give out more leaflets, organise more protests, and it really just mushroomed from there and spread world-wide.

Could you tell us a bit about the factsheet at the time that it was written?

Well after a couple of years of protests against McDonald's it was clear that people wanted something in more depth. And some people in the group - and I can't really remember who exactly - went off to write a detailed factsheet that they researched. And I remember seeing it after it was published and thinking that was a dynamite leaflet and the best written thing I'd ever seen - it was very, very persuasive. I think that was the thing I felt most strongly about it, that it went into quite deep issues in a sort of chatty and persuasive way that made people want to read it. I felt this was something that had really taken the campaign onto a new level, it was going to be a lever for strengthening the campaign andmaking it more effective. There was a feeling that this campaign was really going places and this literature was getting to be more and more popular and more and more influential and we were beginning to influence the course of events.

So what did you personally think of McDonald's at the time of that campaign?

Well I've never really thought much of McDonald's. Because of my background in trade unionism I had always despised companies who treated their workers that way, with low pay and no rights. They're a very unremarkable company when it comes to their food and I wasn't really much aware of their advertising because I'd never really taken much notice of them. But as time's gone on and I've looked more and more into what they really represent and their position in society, I think they're quite a sinister organisation that do need to be countered and I'm very pleased to have had the opportunity to take part in that struggle.


[ dave and helen ]

Have you ever eaten their food?

I think when I was in America in the early 1970s I may have eaten some of McDonald's food - this was a long time ago. But when I came back to this country I remember having a bit of a taste for their thick shakes. However when I discovered that they had the equivalent of twelve spoonfuls of sugar in them I started going off them quite dramatically and I haven't eaten there for about ten to fifteen years.

All the advice we got was 'you've got no chance, why don't you just give in and then just do something else with your life instead of spending years in court?

Could you describe a bit about your personal life at the time you got the writ and how that affected how you were thinking about the case?

When I got the writ from McDonald's I wasn't really active in London Greenpeace anymore. My main activity was the campaign against the poll tax which I was heavily involved with for about five years. But I also had, just before the writs, a lot of personal domestic problems. I had a young baby and my son and his mother had had a bad accident. So really when I got the writs I was in no state to be able to fight the case.

But of course I wanted to and I was absolutely outraged that McDonald's should want an apology from us - after all they'd been doing in the world.

All the advice we got was 'you've got no chance, why don't you just give in and then just do something else with your life instead of spending years in court?

It was Helen that persuaded me to fight the case, because she was determined to do it and go ahead with it and obviously if one's going to do it then two's better!

So how did you feel, once you'd decided that you were going to do it and you were facing this impossible thing?

I don't think when we decided to fight the case we really knew what it would involve. It just seemed the next stage was coming up, we had to whack a Defence in and so on. It was a question of just getting everything relevant that we could find on McDonald's and putting it down and then giving it to McDonald's' solicitors. If we'd realised we had to do further particulars, further and better particulars of the particulars and then interrogatories and twenty-eight pre-trial hearings and European Court applications and all that kind of stuff that we went through, it would have been so daunting. But we just dealt with each stage as it came.

We just learned on our feet really as we went along.


[ d & h larfin' ]

Did either of you ever think at any time during the whole experience 'Well, I'm giving in - I can't carry on'?

I can't really speak for Helen. I would say that every week since we decided to fight the case I've become more determined to fight this case to the end and to expose McDonald's and what they stand for. Not just about their food and advertising and animals and employment but also the fact that they're bullies. It's become a kind of personal . matter. I don't have any grudge against them, but I think that bullies have to be countered and they have to be countered by the people they're bullying so that the world can see that bullies will never prosper and they will be brought down as many notches as you can bring them down.

The further we got into this case the more horrified we became about the effect of libel laws in this country and in particular about the fact that McDonalds had forced apologies out of dozens of organisations - from theatre groups to local papers to the BBC, everybody. They were just bullying people to shut them up and we became increasingly angry and more determined that we were going to stand up to them. That's really what's kept us going throughout this case.

We've got no money and therefore we've been put at a big disadvantage in this case, as it's not a level playing field at all. It should not have been allowed to go ahead.


The media has said that the reason you could stand up to this was because you've got no money and therefore nothing to lose. How do you feel about this?

We've got no money and therefore we've been put at a big disadvantage in this case, as it's not a level playing field at all. It should not have been allowed to go ahead.

We've invested our lives for the last six years, and especially the last three years have been just constant pressure of work, administration of the paperwork, thinking of preparations and questioning, and all kinds of legal complexities all down on us all the time. So we've had a lot to lose by fighting this case but at the same time it's given me more strength because although I've lost a lot of my life fighting this case I've learned so much.

I've learned so much about how to project myself, how to tear away the propaganda put out by their executives, these so immensely powerful and experienced people. To tear away that arrogance and that wall of image that they put over in the witness box and to get at the reality underneath. I now see McDonalds as just like a tiny insignificant little speck because I've seen their top executives, I've seen all their material and really it's just completely transparent. It's like the The Emperor's New Clothes, and we're the kids saying `they've got no clothes on' and then suddenly everyone sees it's right, they really are just a load of hot air. It's has taken five years to achieve that and has given me a lot of personal strength.

People say that the BBC and the Vegetarian Society and so on couldn't fight it.

One of the lines of the media is that maybe we could fight the case because we had no resources so we had nothing to lose... which is a bit insulting because obviously we've got our whole lives on the line in this case and we're facing bankruptcy. Also we are putting our money into it. I have to live on seventy quid a week and whatever I've got to spare goes into fighting the case. But everybody should fight libel threats - whether it's the newspapers or campaigning organisations. The point is people should not give in to censorship and it doesn't matter how much resources they've got - the libel laws must be made unworkable.


The libel laws must be made unworkable. We are showing in this case that they're oppressive, that they're unfair that they're totally geared up to defend the interests of the rich and powerful.
We are showing in this case that they're oppressive, that they're unfair that they're totally geared up to defend the interests of the rich and powerful. We're kind of knocking a hole in that and sending a message out to all people in this country that if you believe in what you're saying stand up for it, fight libel writs, defy censorship threats because people have a right to express genuinely held views. Nothing in the world's going to stop me from putting over my opinion to whoever I want whenever I want. And if the libel laws get in the way then they should be got rid of.

[ mcspotlighting ]

What's been McSpotlight's role, how has it contributed, what did it bring that was new?

When the idea of a web site came up I was very cynical because I thought well it's just technology and so few people have access and I am a bit of a Luddite. I think that we're living in a very technological society and that's part of the problem .. but in terms of this case McSpotlight has been a revelation because McDonalds are trying to suppress information about their company and here we have a thousand times more information than anyone had before now available at the press of a button world-wide.

It's such a effective medium for people to do research and to get information and to communicate with others through that site, so I think it's been another nail in the coffin for McDonalds censorship strategy.

Do you think that handing ANY leaflet is actually achieving anything?

The people that run the country continuously force their views on the public through advertising, through the media, through schools, through authorities of all kinds. They're constantly putting their point of view to the public 'companies are great, the government's great, the police are great'. It's vital that people club together, get organised, think for themselves, print their own material, encourage debate and discussion, ask people to question what is really going on because we're then people that matter. Not the people that have the power. They force themselves on us and force their . ideas on us as well, .and we have to basically fight back. One way of doing that is to get organised, to print leaflets, to circulate them, to encourage discussion and encourage people to question things fundamentally. 'What really is going on?' So the McDonald's campaign has picked on a company that's so much in the public eye and that seems to symbolise a whole system, and a whole way of life, mass production, mass society, everything the same, junk food, crap jobs, brainwashing kids.. To have a leafleting and educational campaign against McDonalds on a big scale, which is what London Greenpeace did, is putting the alternative point of view of what this company, which symbolises a whole system, represents. It also publicises alternative ideas that people are trying to create about healthy food and about workers' rights and people deciding what goes on in their communities - not multi-national corporations or governments.

The alternative ideas put forward by London Greenpeace about McDonald's are also symbolic of the alternative for the whole of the way society is organised. So really, McDonalds symbolises capitalism, and a mass industrial culture - and the anti-McDonalds ideas symbolise a kind of a whole society based upon respect for the environment and sharing, co-operation and people making the decisions themselves. So in some ways McDonald's has become a symbol on the one hand for the establishment and what it represents and on the other hand for people that are trying to change things on a wide range of issues.


So really, McDonalds symbolises capitalism, and a mass industrial culture - and the anti-McDonalds ideas symbolise a kind of a whole society based upon respect for the environment and sharing, co-operation and people making the decisions themselves.
And I think that's why it's been so successful because the public are interested in what McDonald's stands for and the wider implications. Campaigners are the foot soldiers if you like, who are going out giving out leaflets - they know that McDonalds symbolises something much wider than just that shop front in the High Street.

What was so outrageous about you not having a jury?

McDonald's argued that we should be denied a jury because a jury would find the issues in the case too complex to deal with and we think that's extremely insulting of the public who in fact are increasingly aware of these kind of issues and increasingly have an opinion about it. We believe a jury would have been outraged that this case was ever brought at all and it would probably have been halted before now. How can the issues be too complicated for members of the public - me and Helen are both members of the public. And we've had to get on top of all these basically very common, everyday issues that are debated and discussed in households and in high streets everywhere. The reality is the public are aware of these kind of issues, they want to know more about them, they want to have a say and because we were denied a jury we want to put the information in front of the public, during the trial and beyond the trial, so that the public can judge for themselves.

Those two sides, are going to be at war , they have been at war during this case, it's going to carry on next year and for the next ten years, the next hundred years if necessary because there are two competing philosophies at war in this case.

Why do you think so many people were willing to support your case as witnesses?

I think, despite the fact that London Greenpeace was a small group and this was just one leaflet, it hit upon something fundamental that was going on and McDonalds felt it had to take action, and the libel laws were of course there to protect companies like that. At the same time because of the importance of what was being argued over, campaigners and supporters of London Greenpeace and basically concerned people everywhere realised they had to defend these ideas that were under attack from the libel laws. That's really why so much is being invested on both sides. Both sides are in a fight to the death to defend their ideas. Those two sides, are going to be at war , they have been at war during this case, it's going to carry on next year and for the next ten years, the next hundred years if necessary because there are two competing philosophies at war in this case.

Who were McDonald's taking on when they served the writs on London Greenpeace?

Because the factsheet is a distillation of what a wide range of critics were saying about food, about animal welfare and about workers' conditions in general. McDonalds - by serving a writ on us were taking on all those movements, all those progressive movements that are trying to improve the quality of life for people and trying to change things. McDonald's thought they could suppress this kind of criticism because they're only actually fighting a case against me and Helen and we just would not have the ability to defend all those ideas without Legal Aid or state-sponsored support. But in fact they were taking on all those movements - the conservationists and green movements, the animal welfare movement, the trade union and labour movement and the public that support them. And that's why we've had such overwhelming support and that's why we've been able to fight the case, get witnesses and donations and get research done .

When the factsheet was written it brought together the ideas and experiences of these large movements - the research that we compiled came from these sources. There was nothing new in the London Greenpeace factsheet, it just brought it all together in one place.

So really the battle is not me and Helen against McDonald's, but McDonald's against the world, really . The public do support those movements that are trying to improve things - sometimes actively, sometimes passively. But McDonald's is effectively taking on the public in this case.


[ home alone ]

Getting the sixty-five witness statements and the pre-trial hearings together must have been a herculean task for two untrained people - what was that like?

We had a real uphill battle before the trial. There were loads of legal arguments and procedures and research work and preparation to be done and a lot of times we didn't know what we doing. And then when McDonald's sensed that we were going to get to trial they speeded everything up and they got the judge to order that we had to produce all our witness statements within three weeks or else whole sections of the case would just be struck out. So, I mean it was `Oh God, what do we do?'


We had a real uphill battle before the trial. There were loads of legal arguments and procedures and research work and preparation to be done and a lot of times we didn't know what we doing.
So we went back to these movements that were the source of the ideas in the factsheet and the source of the support that we were getting, and we contacted nutritionists, we contacted trade unionists, and all over the world we managed to contact key people that had been having disputes with McDonald's, or had done research work, experts and activists, and within three weeks we'd compiled sixty-five written statements of experts and other people. And we served them the day before the deadline and we had a hearing the next day and the McDonald's barrister was a nervous wreck! He'd been up all night reading our witness statements, and he'd previously said `you'll have no chance, all your case is based on press cuttings' - that's what he'd said to us. But when he saw that we had such a substantial case he was a nervous wreck, and it was from that moment really things started to move in our favour. We began to be taken seriously. And that's when McDonald's brought Richard Rampton QC in, at a very early stage before the trial started - because they knew they had a real battle on their hands.

Can you tell us a little about Richard Rampton?

It's very unusual to bring a top libel QC in at a pre-trial stage. After that he made all these heavy applications to get rid of the jury, which was successful, and to try and strike out parts of our case. They we really taking us seriously from then on in.

After the writs were served we had received two hours of free legal aid, which effectively meant being told `you've got no chance'. And when we decided to go ahead with the case we were floundering around, going to the hearings on our own. We were just treated like,`what are these people doing in my courtroom?' That's the attitude we got. I mean the first hearing we asked the judge to explain the procedures and he said `if you don't know the procedures you should be represented'.We said 'there's no legal aid so what are we meant to do?' We definitely got the impression that we weren't welcome but that only made us more determined. We thought that if McDonald's are bullies then the courts are bullies too and we're just going to have to fight, we're just not going to put up with it.

Just before the trial, McDonald's issued leaflets against you and Helen, what does this say to you?

They'd distributed three hundred thousand leaflets through their stores in the UK attacking me and Helen for being liars, and thereby attacking all their critics for being liars. This was just completely hypocritical because they're suing us for giving out leaflets against them! So, this gave us an opportunity to sue them and demand that they prove that what was in the London Greenpeace factsheet is in fact untrue.


[ window dressing ]
Up until that moment McDonald's could just sit back and say `the libel laws in this country say the burden of proof is on the defendants - you prove it, you prove all these things'. But from that moment when we sued them, they were under the same burden of proof, they have to prove that the ideas of their critics are actually untrue, that they don't pay low pay, that they don't . target children in their advertising. It's possible at the end of the case that it'll be a draw, that they'll win on their claim and we win on our claim . But that was a turning point - we began to turn the tables on them, and really put them in the spotlight.

When did it suddenly become clear that it was McDonald's that was on trial and not you and what a unique opportunity it was?

When we counterclaimed against them for their leaflets that really was the beginning of turning the tables on them, and putting them in the dock. Effectively a multi-national corporation is on trial for its business practices, and this has probably never happened before. And it's not before time, because multi-national corporations have so much power and influence, and they're completely unaccountable, so this has been a unique opportunity to force them to answer the questions of their critics without hiding behind PR hacks and propaganda.

They've been subjected to up to eight or nine days of questioning, some of them, from their most vehement critics, and they couldn't walk away. They have to deal with cross-examination from me and Helen. And very unimpressive they've been too.
McDonald's, to try to justify themselves, have had to bring all their big guns into the witness box - top executives, members of their board of directors, heads of departments, researchers, paid consultants. They've been unable to hide behind the slick lines that they normally come out with because we've tried to tear them apart and get at the truth and the information that they've tried to keep secret for so long. And we feel we've been very successful. They've been subjected to up to eight or nine days of questioning, some of them, from their most vehement critics, and they couldn't walk away. They can't walk away until we finish questioning, they can't avoid our questioning, they can't hide behind PR and glossy literature now.

This is such a unique opportunity not just to reveal the inner workings of a multi-national corporation, but also to have the two sides together in one courtroom, facing each other. The public should know what's happened in this trial because he we have the two sides of the argument - on one side we have power and money, and on the other side we have people trying to put over an alternative point of view. The public should really be the ones to decide which side they're on, and judge for themselves.

Was there anything different in being face to face with the likes of McDonald's executives?

I've been an active campaigner on a number of different issues for twenty years or more, and a lot of the time it's communicating with members of the public, talking about issues, targeting different companies etc. But never have I heard of this kind of opportunity - when you're face to face with representatives of `the enemy', only feet away in the courtroom. You can actually put what you believe and what you know to be the truth, and say `what do you say about that?'


[ ron meet dave, dave meet ron ]

Back to 1989, can you just tell us what your relationship with Helen was, at the time?

Helen and I first got to know each other through our campaigning activities in Tottenham, and we went up to Yorkshire together during the miners' strike to visit mining villages. We were active around campaigning about empty housing in Tottenham, in unemployed issues, and we shared an allotment. So we always had a good working relationship before even she got involved with London Greenpeace. I think that's helped to provide the kind of strength of working together. In Tottenham we were both active in the local Anarchist group that was campaigning around the kind of issues that have been raised in this case, spreading information and educational work in the local area. So Helen and I have both been working together around basic everyday issues but at the same time both committed to the revolutionary transformation of our society to something better.


Helen and me have been working together, off and on, for ten years now, but we don't have any personal relationship - contrary to popular imagination! We even shared a house for some time with other people as well but that's about as far as it goes - there's no sex angle, I'm afraid.


We're both anarchists, we've been involved with Anarchist groups as well as unemployed groups and housing campaigns and different things, so in some ways we're able to work together on what you might call 'single issues' like those that have come up in this case. At the same time having this anarchist philosophy gives us a context, an overview of what we're doing, why we're fighting this case and what we ultimately want to achieve - which is to make people see that the are two sides in every battle. We're on one side, McDonald's is on the other and society at the end of the twentieth century is in crisis. There are two opposing world views of which way it could go - is it going to carry on the same or is a better society going to be created. And we certainly would hope that people would see that there's an alternative being put forward in this McLibel case, and we represent that alternative.

Helen and me have been working together, off and on, for ten years now, but we don't have any personal relationship - contrary to popular imagination! We even shared a house for some time with other people as well but that's about as far as it goes - there's no sex angle, I'm afraid.

The way the world is set up now is that people with power and money tell everybody else what to do and they make all the decisions, and basically they exploit people and the environment for their own ends. I want an anarchist society which means that people are sharing things, there's no money or Government, but people themselves making the decisions together, having strong communities, respecting the environment, not exploiting animals and basically being free. Without that perspective on what I'd like to achieve I wouldn't have the strength and objectivity to be able to spend so many years in this very intense battle with the McDonald's Corporation.

After the first few months of the trial we got a note out of the blue that McDonald's wanted to meet us any place, any time, and they would fly over members of their Board of Directors because they wanted to settle the case. We were pretty stunned! It showed that they were feeling on very weak ground having heard the arguments up to that point. They were weakening , under the pressure, so we basically thought -'well, fine - we'll meet with them - this is dynamite' . So they flew over, Shelby Yastrow and Dick Starrman, at twenty four hours notice at their initiative and we met on the top floor of a building with solicitors' firms in it.

It was quite a dramatic setting , on the top floor of this office block. They were very weaselly and crawling to us - they we being very friendly and saying 'Look, we're all lumbered with this court case, but nobody really wants it, do we? McDonald's don't want it, you don't want it, so now we have a window of opportunity - let's see what can be done.' So they said to us 'Why don't you just agree not to hand out the factsheet and we'll drop the case' , and we of course said 'Well, I mean, we want a guarantee from you you're not going to sue anybody else. We're not going to agree to stop distributing anything that we feel that we believe in'.

They clearly wanted a way out of the case and when we'd heard what they'd got to say we put our demands. They had to guarantee not to sue anybody else in the future and had to apologise to those they'd sued in the past, and to make a payment to a third party - we didn't want the money for ourselves but recognition of the amount of hassle we'd had. They agreed to pay a substantial sum. We were thinking in the region of hundreds of thousands of pounds. But they didn't want to guarantee not to sue other people and really that was the crux of it as far as we were concerned. We weren't going to go through the defence of the right to criticise Multinationals and then have some secret settlement which meant they could sue somebody the next day. Because we believe we're fighting on behalf of the public's right to speak their mind and not be censored.


They clearly wanted a way out of the case and when we'd heard what they'd got to say we put our demands ... But they didn't want to guarantee not to sue other people and really that was the crux of it as far as we were concerned. We weren't going to go through the defence of the right to criticise Multinationals and then have some secret settlement which meant they could sue somebody the next day.

Could you describe the agreement you made with McDonald's at the beginning of the trial over the transcripts?

Well just before the trial began we won a major Court of Appeal hearing restoring some of the parts of our case which the judge had struck out which shocked McDonald's. They wanted to have instantaneous transcripts throughout the trial and one of our conditions to allow them to do that was that we got copies of them. And for that they could have stenographers in court, and there would be equipment in court which all parties would be able to use - including the judge. They agreed, but midway through the trial it became clear that we were using the official transcripts effectively in our preparations - and that their witnesses were making important admissions, or completely ludicrous comments to try and justify the unjustifiable, and that accurate information was getting out to the press of what was going on in court. They said that they wanted a guarantee that we would not show these public transcripts to anybody except to one or two legal advisors - and especially, they said, not to the media. They were demanding an undertaking of self-censorship where we would not tell the media what was going on in this public trial. Ridiculous. Of course, we could not make such an undertaking, and they withheld the transcripts from us. The transcripts cost 440 a day to get them at the same time as their side got them. So at that time we were cut off from the official record of the court proceedings. We could raise the money to buy them 3 weeks later at the 'journalists' rate of 30, by which time it would be too late to use them in our preparations or in publicity. So McDonald's had won and got yet another advantage on top of all the others they already had.


[ dave and joshua ]
It was obvious to anybody that McDonald's had been fed up with the publicity that was coming out of the case and paranoid about the world finding out about what their own witnesses were saying in the witness box!

In 1989 and '90 I was hardly involved in London Greenpeace but I knew that Helen had suspected that there were some kind of infiltrators in the group. I had said 'Don't be stupid, that's something which you only read about in books.' , but she was proved absolutely right. They had had seven agents over an eighteen month period, which was a total abuse of the trust of the kind of open group that London Greenpeace was.

Well, it now turns out that these agents got fully involved with the group, handed out anti-McDonald's factsheets and took part in decision-making. If we get damages that awarded against us at the end of the case we can sue the spies as co-defendants! They should pay their share of the damages for distributing the factsheets that McDonald's are trying to stop. I mean, it's a bizarre situation when McDonald's are hiring people to do the very thing which they're claiming they want us to stop doing. Effectively they thereby consented to the distribution of the leaflets so the case should've been halted and thrown out of court then. During that period in 1989 and 90 I hardly went to any meetings and wasn't involved with the anti-McDonald's campaign at all - whereas a couple of the spies went to thirty meetings in a year took part in mailouts and leafleting and all kinds of stuff - so the reality is if anyone was to have been sued it should have been them, not me.

It was a very sinister operation that McDonald's had organised. The spies stole letters, broke into the office to take photographs, followed people home. One of them formed a very close relationship with somebody in the group and handed out leaflets on demonstrations as well. The last thing I remember of them is that one of them wanted to get my address so decided to send me some baby clothes for Charlie and asked someone in the group where I lived. He actually sent these clothes to me, which Charlie wore - it now makes me sick to think that my son was wearing those clothes. The McDonald's agent left the group soon after.
It was a very sinister operation that McDonald's had organised. The spies stole letters, broke into the office to take photographs, followed people home. One of them formed a very close relationship with somebody in the group and handed out leaflets on demonstrations as well.

Have you suffered during the trial?

It's been completely exhausting for the last three years , and I've just not been able to concentrate on anything else. Even when I'm doing something else in the small time I might set aside my mind just keeps wandering back to McDonalds, McDonalds, McDonalds (laughs). I've barely had a holiday really for the past four years and just haven't been able to do other things that I'd like to do. Also I want to be campaigning locally where I live because I feel very close to the rest of the people who live in this neighbourhood. But I've had to abandon that for this global contest.

But although it's a very important battle because of what it symbolises there are many other important things going on, conflicts and struggles and campaigns and issues, which are equally important and I'd like to be involved in those as well - rather than just trapped into this for the rest of my life.

I think one of the most important struggles that I've ever been involved with was the anti-Poll Tax movement, and I was very active in that for a number of years including as secretary of the London Federation of local anti-poll tax groups, and on a national level too promoting communication, organising demonstrations and helping with defence campaigns for arrested non-payers and protesters.


[ dave n brekkie ]
It was successful mass defiance of the law, the courts, the media, the political parties, and in the end eighteen million people refused to co-operate with that unjust law. Helen was also involved in that campaign. I've learned from that experience that oppressive laws can be overturned if they're shown to be unworkable, and I believe the libel laws are due for some serious opposition in this country because of the sinister way they're used as a form of mass censorship. I believe they can be made unworkable, and I would hope that after the end of this case that people continue to circulate anti-McDonalds literature and that other people stand up for what they believe in when they're threatened by other multinationals, or indeed, anybody.

As an individual, this is definitely the most important battle that I have that I've ever waged and I think that McDonalds picked on the wrong people really.

As an individual, this is definitely the most important battle that I have that I've ever waged and I think that McDonalds picked on the wrong people really. Me and Helen have been involved with a wide range of campaigns in the past and we have gained strength from what those campaigns have achieved. From the miners' strike in the mid-1980s, from the anti-Poll Tax movement, from unemployed groups, from housing issues. And so when they took on us they took on the experiences of those other movements. McDonalds thought that they were the Goliath fighting the David and that we would be crushed, but the reality is - because we represent the public that are sick of bad working conditions and sick of being brainwashed by advertising, and the destruction of the environment - hundreds of millions of people - WE were the 'Goliath' in this struggle and they were the 'David'. It turns out that not only were they the 'David' but they're all hot air - there's no substance in them and they've allowed themselves to put on trial.

Could anyone else have fought the case as you two have?

I think that the two of us complement each other very well. Helen's very strong on the detail which I get impatient with, because to me it just seems so ludicrous - having to defend such basic common-sense views - what does it matter on the detail? She's a stickler for being exact on the detail and for preparation for questions we need for each witness. I'm very strong, I think, on keeping the overall picture in front of us which is that this is a war, it's a war that we're going to win and that it's a long battle and we've got to keep our strength up. She's been under a great deal of stress and I think I've helped to get through those difficult times. I am getting more determined as each week goes by, and I'm going to be just as determined after the trial finishes to carry on telling the truth about McDonalds.

A lot of people say that we're 'heroes'. We're not heroes, we're not any more important than anybody else. Its just that we've been put in this position , and we've had to fight to defend ourselves, but we can only do that because we are part of a big collective movement that's trying to improve things in the world. That's where our witnesses have come from, that's where much of the donations have come from, that's where our practical support has come from and so really it's been a collective struggle. That's why we're not heroes, but we are symbolic of what all those other people and movements are achieving. I mean, every day, every person who stands up to their boss at work , every person that stops a tree from being cut down is a hero, you could say. It's just that they don't get elevated to this world stage as we have.

Because we have the politics that we do we don't think there should be people who are more important than other people - who are influential in that way. We believe very strongly that real change can only come when ordinary people get organised together without leaders - without prominent famous people speaking on their behalf. So although we've been elevated into this position because of this case, because we're anarchists we don't want to take advantage of that and become 'spokespeople' for a generation or anything like that. We want to go back after the case into the kind of collective work we were doing before, and what we hope to have achieved is to be an example that other people can stand up for what they believe in - as indeed they are - whatever it takes. And there's a lot of people with far more courage than me fighting much more heroic battles all over the world against starvation and repression and injustice, and we can all learn from their example.


 [ avin a larf ]

Of course it's flattering to be interviewed and people ask for your ideas, but the media generally doesn't cover any of the deeper issues involved in the case. You're lucky if they cover the things that are going on in the courtroom, but the deeper matters of what McDonalds really symbolises and what capitalism's all about, and what we stand for, are virtually never covered anyway. We can't rely on the media to get those kind of ideas over. It's only by mass movements of groups of individuals and local people all over the world getting organised and spreading those ideas and encouraging discussion and debate. That is the way that real ideas can be promoted - not by sound bites in the media.

Do you think Helen faced any challenges that you didn't have to?

I think it's been particularly a challenge for Helen during the case because it's a very male dominated courtroom and she, if she expresses any emotion or frustration it's like put down to `oh she's hysterical' or whatever, ignore her. Whereas when I'm under stress I get angry and they kind of get a bit frightened of me .. but I think the two of us working together have put up a very strong fight and that they must recognise that.

They flew over at twenty four hours notice two members of their board from Chicago, their top guns, to negotiate with us in secret to try and end the case.

After only a couple of months of the evidence it was clear we were doing very well and this was going to be a long and very embarrassing case for McDonald's. Well we got this letter out of the blue saying that they would like to negotiate with us about settling the case. And we were completely stunned and we saw this as a massive potential climbdown by McDonald's. They flew over at twenty four hours notice two members of their board from Chicago, their top guns, to negotiate with us in secret to try and end the case.

What were they like?

Well we'd never really done anything like this before, and here was the enemy, two of the most powerful people on the planet wanting to meet little old me and Helen, and well we just thought we'll go along, string `em along, see what they've got to say, and put our demands. So we had this meeting in the top floor of this office block, solicitors offices, ..looking out on this panorama of London with these U.S. executives, and we made it absolutely clear that we would only consider allowing them to pull out of the case if they apologised to all the people they'd sued in the past, who'd made similar criticisms to us, and guaranteed not to sue people in the future, for expressing the same kind of ideas.

And on top of that, in lieu of compensation to us - which we didn't want for ourselves - instead paid a substantial amount, some hundreds of thousands of pounds or something, to a mutually agreeable third party. They actually agreed to pay an undisclosed sum, but they didn't want to concede that they shouldn't have the right to go around threatening and intimidating their critics in the future, or apologising to the ones that they'd done in the past. So, that was the most important thing to us and that's why we couldn't allow them to pull out. So there was no way we were going to settle, there was such a huge gulf between the two sides, and it was back to court for the case to continue.
[ media scrum  -spot ben ]

What did it symbolise, you and Helen meeting the two top men from McDonald's?

It seemed to me they were clearly begging for an end to this trial and one of them was trying to be really friendly and the other one was sitting there seething in the corner because obviously he just thought we were sick or something and he just wanted to get out of the room. But if they'd come up with something that had protected the right to free speech and compensated those they've sued in the past - and us - then we would have considered it. But basically we felt we were doing well in the trial and it was their initiative to have the meeting, so the ball was in their court. There was really such a gulf between the two sides that they just couldn't bear to accept any of our demands. And so it went back to court.

We've torn apart their propaganda and we've brought them down to earth. McDonalds aim was to prevent the distribution of leaflets - but a million and a half leaflets have been handed out in this country alone since the writs were served on us and the campaign and that movement is growing.

The evidence is finished now. How do you feel you have achieved?

Looking back over the last two years of evidence I would say that McDonalds critics have been completely vindicated a hundred times over. We now know more than we ever dreamed we could know about the inner workings of a multi-national like McDonalds. We've torn apart their propaganda and we've brought them down to earth. McDonalds aim was to prevent the distribution of leaflets - but a million and a half leaflets have been handed out in this country alone since the writs were served on us and the campaign and that movement is growing. People are pledging to carry on leafleting whatever the verdict. And of course the publicity as well surrounding the whole case has boosted the public's awareness of the campaign and the issues. So in every way we feel we've won. The actual verdict itself is just one person's individual point of view - the judge's - so it's academic in many ways what he decides .. the really important thing is the public decide, that they get to know what happened in this case and they judge for themselves. And we believe that any person looking into what's happened would see that McDonalds has lost a thousand times over and that we've won.

Explain the possible consequences if you lose the verdict. What are you likely to face.?

Considering the forces raised against us, if we win on any of the the points at issue it will have been a success. Thousands of people have personally pledged to carry on handing out anti- McDonalds literature and I can't see McDonalds having thousands more court cases like this one, in fact I can't see them having any more court cases like this one.

I think the ironic thing is that McDonalds aim was to suppress criticism and through us standing up to them and fighting this case we have more ammunition, more movement, more public support, and that can only be a good thing, because it's not a personal battle between me and Helen and McDonalds. This is about the publics' right to know what the most powerful organisations in the world, which are multi- national corporations, are really doing and the alternatives that exist. And the public should have a right to decide, based upon full information and full public debate what kind of society they want in the twenty-first century and whether multi-national corporations should be part of that society. And if we have helped stimulate such a debate we would feel we've been completely successful.

Do you think the tag of 'David and Goliath' is fair when commenting about the trial?

This has been aptly described as a David and Goliath battle. McDonalds have all the resources, all the power and influence, and we're just two members of the pubic. So how have we managed to turn the tables and put them on trial and find them guilty? The reality is that they took on something much bigger than themselves when they served writs on me and Helen. They took on all those social movements that are trying to make improvements in the world, they took on all the public who are concerned about all these issues.

The reality is that McDonalds itself is a completely nondescript, money-making organisation, full of hot air - without advertising it would be nothing. So the reality is that we're the 'Goliath', the public is the Goliath in this case and McDonalds is 'David'. And that's why they've lost. It's been a David and Goliath struggle of which they have been minuscule in comparison to the millions of people that are trying to improve things in the world.
People with strong alternative points of view are not just going to doff their cap and say `yes guvnor, OK, we think multi-nationals are fine really'. We are people who are challenging the principle of letting some people control and dominate other people's lives...which includes judges. But having said that, obviously there's been a kind of uneasy balance in the court. We've never called him `milord' or `your lordship', probably the first people in history to go through a complete trial never once having deferred to the judge in that way, never called him `sir'.
[ the end ... ? ]

But in contrast to that, we're prepared to debate and discuss things on their terms in order to get information and evidence out. And we've been prepared to recognise the court in that way. Of those two hundred and eighty days that we've spent in court so far we have been doing almost all of the questioning, because we're not frightened of the truth coming out....and we have to question their witnesses to get the truth concealed behind what they've said. Whereas Rampton hasn't questioned our witnesses almost at all in the whole case, because the more questions he asks them the worse it gets for McDonald's! Because they remember other things about what's happened to them or about their research or whatever .. which are all damaging to McDonald's. So, he's had to sit there, frustrated and out-manoeuvred. I would feel a twinge of sympathy with him, except that he's of course getting half a million pounds to do that.


But on top of every little extra advantage they've had to grasp every possible chance to undermine our defence. They're that scared of what we have to say.
McDonald's have taken every chance for a bit of advantage over us, even though they got the the jury removed, they've got all the money, we've got none, the laws are all on their side, the burden of proof is entirely on the defence, they can call witnesses that are all their own people - they haven't called anyone outside their influence and control. But on top of every little extra advantage - to deny us the transcripts, to not disclose us documents, even down to the smallest level of making snide comments and heckling when we're questioning the witnesses, and shuffling their papers noisily to try and put us off - they've had to grasp every possible chance to undermine our defence. They're that scared of what we have to say.


See also: