Press Release - 14th October, 1996
CLOSING SPEECHES START IN McLIBEL TRIAL
McLibel Support Campaign
The McLibel Trial, between the $30 billion a year McDonald's Corporation and two supporters of London Greenpeace (Helen Steel & Dave Morris), began on 28th June 1994 and is now set to run to the end of 1996. It is already by far the longest civil case in British history (see the latest Guinness Book of Records, p212, for details). All the evidence in the case was completed in July and the Closing Speeches, which are expected to last several weeks, will commence on Monday 21st October at 10.30am.
Steel & Morris will go first, followed by Richard Rampton QC for McDonald's. The Defendants have repeatedly requested a ruling that, in the interests of justice, the Closing Speech of McDonald's should be presented first. At a hearing on 7th Oct, the Defendants submitted that such a ruling would enable them to hear what case they had to answer before summarising their Defence, and also would give them some further time to prepare. In their Closing Speech, Steel & Morris have the impossible task of analysing 40,000 pages of documentary evidence, and 20,000 pages of transcript testimony, as well as dealing with many complex legal arguments and submissions to the judge, Mr Justice Bell. Steel & Morris are unrepresented, have few resources and have no experience in preparing and presenting Closing Speeches. McDonald's, with their team of top libel lawyers and assistants, have had every advantage in this case, but Richard Rampton QC strongly opposed the Defendants' application, and the Judge ruled that the Defence must go first, starting on October 21st.
Mike Mansfield, a leading UK QC, stated last month: "The 'McLibel' case is the trial of the century as it concerns the most important issues that any of us have to face living our ordinary lives. This David and Goliath battle has it all."
One or both of the McLibel Defendants will be present outside the court from 9.30am on Mon 21st October.
The issues in the case, on which 180 witnesses have given evidence, and which will be summarised in the Closing Speeches, are as follows:
The Defendants believe that critics of the fast food giant have been vindicated by the evidence in the case, particularly by admissions made by McDonald's executives and paid consultants in the witness box under cross-examination. Here are some brief highlights from the trial, which will be referred to in the Closing Speeches:
NOTES TO EDITORS
(1) The McLibel Trial is a mammoth legal battle between the $30 billion a year McDonald's Corporation and two supporters of London Greenpeace. Helen Steel (bar worker, 31) and Dave Morris (single parent and ex-postman, 42) between them have an annual income of approximately 7,000 pounds. McDonald's are suing Steel & Morris for alleged libel over a 6-sided factsheet produced by London Greenpeace, entitled "What's Wrong With McDonald's?", which McDonald's allege they distributed in 1989/90.
(2) The Trial began on 28th June 1994 and became the longest civil case in British history in December 1995. A total of approximately 180 witnesses from the UK and around the world have given evidence in court about the effects of the company's operations on the environment, on human health, on millions of farmed animals, on the Third World, and on McDonald's' own staff. They include environmental and nutritional experts, trade unionists, animal welfare experts, McDonald's employees, top executives, and five infiltrators employed by McDonald's. The Trial is set to run until the end of 1996.
(3) Steel & Morris were denied their right to a jury trial and, with no right to Legal Aid, are forced to conduct their own defence against McDonald's team of top libel lawyers. The denial of a jury caused Marcel Berlins, a leading legal commentator, to remark "I cannot think of a case in which the legal cards have been so spectacularly stacked against one party".
(4) After McDonald's issued leaflets nationwide calling their critics liars, the Defendants took out a counterclaim for libel against McDonald's which is running concurrently with McDonald's libel action, leading to two separate verdicts.
(5) At the time of the first anniversary of the Trial (June 1995), it was widely reported that McDonald's had initiated secret settlement negotiations with Steel & Morris. They twice flew members of their US Board of Directors to London to meet with the Defendants to seek ways of ending the case. McDonald's were, and still are, clearly very worried about the way the case is going for them and the bad publicity they are receiving.
(6) The case is receiving publicity worldwide. The columnist Auberon Waugh described the trial as "the best free entertainment in London". A confidential internal memo from McDonald's in Australia (leaked to and broadcast widely by the media last year) revealed the Corporation's dilemma around the world with media coverage of the trial: "Contain it as a UK issue". "We could worsen the controversy by adding our opinion". "We want to keep it at arms length - not become guilty by association". "This will not be a positive story for McDonald's Australia". The aim is to "minimise any further negative publicity".
(7) It's clear that McDonald's aim of suppressing the "What's Wrong With McDonald's?" leaflet has totally backfired. Over 2 million leaflets have been handed out to the public in the UK alone since the action was started and thousands of people have pledged to continue circulating the leaflets whatever the verdict. Protests and campaigns against McDonald's continue in over 24 countries. And now there is an internet site called 'McSpotlight', an on-line library and campaigning tool, which makes available across the globe 2,000 separate files containing everything that McDonald's don't want the public to know (http://www.mcspotlight.org/). McSpotlight was accessed over a million times in its first month.