Making a McMeal of it

Historic libel trial draws to a close

by Vanessa Thorpe

Hendon & Finchley Times, 5th December 96; UK

The McDonald's libel trial, the longest in legal history, is finally in its death throes.

This week: the barrister who represents the East Finchley-based restaurant chain is presenting his closing statement a document contained in two trolley-loads of box files.

The High Court hearing will finish tomorrow, on its 311 th day, or early next week, but Mr Justice Bell is unlikely to deliver his judgement until well into the new year.

McDonald's UK, which has its headquarters in High Road, first brought its action against two North London environmental campaigners in 1991 in response to a leaflet which made a series of allegations about the international fast food empire.

Five years on, and after two and a half years spent defending themselves in court Helen Steel, 31, and David Morris, 42, are at last nearing the end.

Known as the Mclibel two, the unemployed duo from Tottenham have fought the case on the grounds that there is no proof they distributed the leaflet and that many of the allegations it makes are accurate anyway.

The defence has been funded by charitable donation because legal aid is not available in libel cases.

Calling upon 60 expert witnesses the defendants have taken the judge through detailed evidence on CFCs and de-forestation, on low wage issues and on nutrition.

McDonald's management may well wish they had never taken on the case since-it has meant huge expense and an endless stream of adverse press coverage. (They have made unsuccessful attempts to settle the case with the defendants).

The company, which is represented by Margaret Thatcher's former Finchley constituency agent Mike Love, has always argued that it is not interested in recovering damages, but simply wants to clear its name.

On the other hand, Miss Steel and Mr Morris maintain they have had an historic opportunity to make a public case against a multi-national with a turnover of 30billion.

"They hoped to wipe the floor with us and then to use that to silence other critics," Miss Steel told the Hendon Times.

"McDonald's has had almost every advantage in this case. The burden of proof is entirely on us. The only advantage we have had was that the truth was on our side."

In response Mr Love commented: "It is difficult to see how you can claim that losing an argument is a victory."

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