The McEnd is Near In McDonald's Libel Trial

by Dirk Beveridge

London - AP; 20th October 1996; UK

Press Index

Even though opened nearly 6,000 restaurants in the meantime, two activists are claiming a moral victory if nothing else as their marathom libel fight with the hamburger giant simmers to a close.

The 'McLibel' case, already in the Guiness Book of Records as the longest running civil trial in British history, heads into closing arguments Monday.

This gives activists Dave Morris and Helen Steel one last shot at unmasking what they call the bogus persons off a grinning Ronald McDonald, put in place, they contend, to conceal the grubby face of a heartless capitalist.

"We believe once you strip away the glossy image, the reality is poor quality, unhealthy foods, exploited workers, damage to the environment and the unethical influence over children, the most vulnerable sector of society," Morris said.

McDonald's disputes this and says it has spent untold amounts on of time and money - some reports suggest the equivalent of more than $16million - to attack a pamphlet that would otherwise have gained little attention.

Morris, an ex-postman who collects welfare cheques, and Helen Steel, a part-time bar worker, get up to six weeks to make their final arguments, followed by up to another three weeks for McDonald's lawyer Richard Rampton. The Judge, Mr Justice Roger Bell, is expected to rule by early next year.

Ever since June 28, 1994, Morris and Steel have been defending themselves against high-powered McDonald's legal team.

The world's top hamburger chain claims the 'McLibel Two' defamed it by distributing a pamphlet entitled "What's Wrong With McDonald's? Everything They Don't Want You To Know."

Even though Morris and Steel call themselves outmatched underdogs fighting the case with no lawyers, they say the attention they have focused on McDonald's makes them winners regardless of the Judge's eventual verdict.

"McDonald's brought the case to silence their critics, and because of our stance the opposite has in fact occured," Morris said. "Over 2 million "What's Wrong With McDonald's" leaflets have been handed out since the writs were served on me and Helen, and publicity and protests are growing."

McLibel 2 supporters have even set up an internet site McSpotlight, that repeats all the material McDonald's claims is false and defamatory - and McDonald's acknowledges it can do nothing about this.

But McDonald's spokesman Mike Love says there will be no winner until the judge has ruled. Love downplayed the extent of th publicity although virtually all British newspapers have carried stories about the "We wouldn't agree there has been a lot of noise during the case, given the length and the number of issues discussed," Love said.

Ironically, Morris and Steel's environmental convictions have at times worked against them.

Morris pointed out in one newspaper interview that at times he wanted Steel to send him faxes to spped up their collaboration outside court hours, but she insisted on doing all business in one-to-one meeting to avoid wasting paper and needlessly killing trees.

"It's an irony of this case that we're seeking to expose how modern industry is destroying the environment, and MCDonald's in particular with its mountains of paper and plastic packaging," Morris said. "Of course there's been many thousands of documents which we've uncovered and collated in the course our preparation, but it's a small price to pay."

Some time ago, the McLibel trial became the longest civil trial in British legal history - a fact duly noted in the latest Guiness Book of Records.

Asked about being part of this historic footnote, Morris chuckles and then says another record looms.

"In ten more days, it will become the longest trial of any court case in British history," he said. "They'll have to amend their entry next year."

See also:
  • McLibel Case Nears End - USA Today; 24th October 1996; USA

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