A WOMAN private detective hired on behalf of the hamburger chain McDonald's to spy on a fringe environmental pressure group had an affair with one of its key activists. She was one of at least seven agents employed by two detective agencies in an 18-month campaign against London Greenpeace (which has no connection with the better known Greenpeace International). Other agents 'borrowed letters' and broke into the group's office using a phone card to 'swipe a lock'.
Evidence of their activities has emerged as a result of the 30-month 'McLibel' trial which ended last month. The £20 billion corporation sued Helen Steel and Dave Morris two penniless members of London Greenpeace, claiming they had distributed defamatory leaflets. A judgement is expected before Easter.
These revelations will fuel criticism of the way the company used its corporate muscle to squash the fringe campaigners.
The woman detective, a former policewoman, was employed by Kings Investigation Bureau Ltd to attend London Greenpeace's meetings and gather intelligence. While working undercover for six months she became intimately involved with 35-year-old Charlie Brooke, on' of the group's leading figures.
Mr Brooke, a vegan, was involve' in a second group, Hackney and Islington Animal Rights Campaign which was also carrying out an anti-McDonald's campaign. His lover also became a member of that group and took part in picketing and flyposting. Mr Brooke discovered her spying role when her name was released during the McLibel case.
Last week, the detective, Ms X, admitted infiltrating the group and defended McDonald's right to protect its reputation. She denied having a relationship with Mr Brooke. 'They are trying to blacken my name because I was with them the longest - and I became the closest of all the agents,' she said.
However, the Observer has obtained a number of statements from witnesses who say Ms X and Mr Brooke were an 'item' during the time she was with the group, and had spent Christmas Day together and visited his mother.
A McDonald's spokesman confirmed that the agencies were instructed to identify the ringleaders of London Greenpeace. He said the company had no knowledge of actions taken by individual agents. 'The information sought was simply the names of those people who were responsible and that was achieved by attending public meetings.'
Gerald Hartley, the boss of Kings Investigation Bureau, said such a relationship 'would be improper and impractical. We have been running a long time and if we had been engaged in this skulduggery we wouldn't have lasted so long.'
The court also heard how Special Branch officers passed information about animal rights campaigners to McDonald's head of security.