'McLibel 2' Bite into Court Fight with Burger Chain

James Erlichman on campaigners who are facing up to fast food firm

The Guardian, March 15, 1994

THEY have been dubbed the " McLibel 2" and today Dave Morris and Helen Steel, unemployed environmentalists, will face the multi-billion dollar McDonald's corporation in the High Court.

McDonald's claims its reputation was damaged by an allegedly libellous leaflet, "What's wrong with McDonald's", which Mr Morris and Ms Steel are accused of distributing as members of London Greenpeace, a local group which pre-dates and has no connection with Greenpeace, the international environmental body.

Three other members of London Greenpeace were also served with a libel writ in September 1990, but they have since apologised in court.

Mr Morris, aged 39, and Ms Steel, aged 28, both from Tottenham, north London, are representing themselves in the trial which starts next month. Legal aid is never granted in libel cases.

"We did get two hours of free legal advice from a firm at the Elephant and Castle," said Mr Morris. "We were told we faced a massive uphill task with the odds stacked against us at every stage. But we had to fight as a matter of principle."

Linda McCartney, wife of Paul McCartney and a vegetarian, gave Mr Morris and Ms Steel £1,000 to fight the case and they say they have also received around £2,000 from well-wishers.

The leaflet is alleged to accuse McDonald's of, in summary, damaging the environment, cruelty to livestock, poor employment practices and selling food which damages customers' health.

McDonald's wants an injunction against further distribution of the leaflet and libel damages, claiming that it has been "greatly damaged in trading reputation, goodwill and credit and brought into public scandal, odium and contempt."

McDonald's won the right at a preliminary hearing last December not to have the case heard by a jury when a judge accepted the company's claim that some of the issues involved were too complex to be understood by lay jurors.

But Mr Morris and Ms Steel will today appeal against that decision with backing from Liberty, the civil rights group, which has engaged Patrick Milmo, QC, to argue for restoration of a jury.

Eddie Bensilum, McDonald's spokeswoman, said: "This leaflet first came to our attention in 1984 and we wrote then, asking London Greenpeace to stop defaming McDonald's. We wrote repeatedly but never got a reply, and we were concerned many people would think the leaflet came from Greenpeace International." She said the leaflet had been translated into several European languages.

McDonald's is unable to sue London Greenpeace because it is not an incorporated body.

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