THE longest trial in British legal history - in which two penniless environmentalists claimed the burger chain McDonald's was poisoning its customers - ended in the High Court yesterday after 2 1/2 years.

McDonald's, the world's biggest food service organisation, hired a top legal firm led by Richard Rampton QC, with fees of #2,000 a day. The two London-based campaigners Dave Morris, and Helen Steel, had no money for lawyers and fought the case themselves. They devoted their time to preparing evidence about alleged rainforest destruction and exploitation of Third World farmers, while seeking information on the company's ethics and practices.

Yesterday Mr Justice Bell told the court, to laughter: "I propose to reserve my judgment. It will take me some time to write it. I don't mean to be difficult when I say I don't know when I will deliver it."

Even if the judge does find against Ms Steel, aged 32, and Mr Morris, aged 42, McDonald's has little chance of recovering legal costs amounting to millions. The company has indicated it will not seek damages, only to clarify the facts and win an injunction barring the pair from repeating their allegations.

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