The McLibel Trial, the longest case in English legal history, is an unlikely
morality tale of our times. In 1990, McDonald's slapped writs on five
London activists for allegedly libelling them in a leaflet entitled "What's
Wrong With McDonald's?". They successfully silenced three. But the
international giant had not banked on the dogged determination of Helen
Steel and Dave Morris, who refused to apologise.
Denied a jury trial and ineligible for legal aid, they were forced to defend themselves. Pitted against some of the top libel lawyers in the country, this unlikely duo became the symbol of a burgeoning protest movement against the globalisation represented by corporations such as McDonald's. For two years, the trial ground through issues from employment, advertising, recycling and litter, to nutrition, animal rights and deforestation, pitting opposing philosophies against each other. The McLibel Support Campaign grew around them - lawyers, nutritionists, ex-McDonald's workers, mothers, teenagers - all weighed-in with financial or other aid. A site was created on the Internet - McSPOTLIGHT - publicising the trial and giving millions access to what McDonald's had tried to suppress. A very different side of McDonald's to that portrayed in their $2 billion annual advertising budget has been exposed. A company this size has never before been so carefully or publicly examined. The tables turned and the corporation found itself on trial.
The conclusion of the trial offers the first opportunity to measure the lasting impact - and the very real political and legal significance - of the case. McLIBEL, the book, tells the gripping inside story of this epic clash of cultures and allows the public, denied the chance to be the jury, to judge for themselves.
John Vidal has been Environment Editor of the Guardian for 6 years. Helen Steel and Dave Morris, the McLibel Defendants, live near each other in North London. Helen is a bar worker and former gardener. Dave is a single parent and ex-postman. Both have for years been actively involved in a wide range of grassroots movements concerning the environment, workers' rights, food issues, anti-fascism, housing and animal rights.