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McLibel Support Campaign
P R E S S . R E L E A S E . 17/05/01
McLibel Crisis As Defendant And Office Fight Eviction Threat
McLibel Support Campaign c/o London Greenpeace 5 Caledonian Rd, London, N1 9DX, UK. Tel/Fax +44-(020) 7713 1269 email@example.com www.mcspotlight.org
MEDIA RELEASE - 2 pages 16th May 2001
McLIBEL CRISIS AS DEFENDANT AND LEGAL OFFICE FIGHT EVICTION NEXT TUESDAY - in the middle of the European case against British government
International Messages Of Protest And Support Being Urgently Sought (see below)
The long-running McLibel case entered a new phase today. The McLibel legal office is run from the home in North London of McLibel defendant Dave Morris. But he is now fighting an imminent threat by Haringey Council to evict him and his son Charlie along with the McLibel office on Tuesday 22nd May. The council, who have a statutory duty to house Mr Morris and Charlie, have said they can only offer ‘Bed and Breakfast’ accommodation and to put all their belongings into sealed storage. They have lived there since Charlie was born. They are determined to stay and have mounted a campaign, backed by their local residents’ association, to get the council to suspend the eviction.
This crisis comes at a bad time. The McLibel defendants, Helen Steel and Dave Morris, who without legal aid defended themselves against the $40 billion dollar McDonald’s Corporation in the longest trial in English history, are currently in the middle of an application against the British Government at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. They are arguing that unfair and oppressive English defamation laws contravene the European Convention on Human Rights.
On May 2nd they served their full submissions and are currently awaiting for an interim decision from the European Court. If, as expected, it is ruled in the next few weeks that the applicants’ case is admissable then the British Government is expected to mount a strong defence of its notoriously controversial libel laws. There will follow further complex submissions from both sides.
* * * * *
In 1993, after the defendants unsuccessfully applied to the European Court to overturn the British Government’s denial of legal aid in defamation cases, the McLibel legal office was set up in a tiny room in Mr Morris’s home. Inside are 40,000 pages of court documents, 20,000 pages of trial transcripts, a photocopier, computer and a wide range of research and administration material to conduct the case. Mr Morris’s co-defendant, Helen Steel, lives in one room in a shared house nearby. Many of her own files are in storage and so the McLibel legal office is absolutely essential for the conduct of their case. Any forced closure of the office would make it impossible for them to fight the European case adequately.
Mr Morris has lodged an ‘11th hour’ application at Edmonton County Court - 10am on Monday 21st - to suspend the eviction. This will be done if the council agree to it. He has written to the Leader of the Council, Cllr George Meehan, explaining the whole situation and demanding that he agree to the suspension. Protests are planned at Cllr Meehan’s surgery on Saturday, 10.30am. An ‘anti-eviction party’ is planned for Tuesday at 10am when the bailiffs are due. Mr Morris is calling for international support in his efforts to protect his family and the McLibel legal office. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Dave Morris issued a statement this week: ‘ Me and my son Charlie are a single parent family who have been living in temporary accommodation at 380 Lordship Lane since he was born - along with our cat (Flossy), our piano, all our belongings and the McLibel legal office.
‘ Last year during negotiations the council said we could have a permanent tenancy on the Tower Gardens estate, then said they’d probably give us a new tenancy at 380 instead - but now we’re threatened with being evicted on 22nd May! We think its a scandal that the council is prepared to spend a fortune putting us into Bed and Breakfast, rather than just let us stay in our home until we can have our permanent tenancy. There are no other plans for our home - a flat above a carpet shop - which will probably be left empty. We are demanding that the eviction is postponed to enable negotiations to continue.
‘ We are strongly attached to our local community, the Tower Gardens estate, and our local residents association. We are determined to stay put.
‘ I had moved in to 380 - designated as ‘Adequate Interim Accomodation’ by the council - with the agreement of the managers of the property on behalf of the council at the time, Haringey Short Life Users (HSLU). A tenancy at 380 was then granted for Charlie and his mum, but when she moved out the following year into permanent council accommodation the two of us split up and I stayed here with Charlie - at first sharing responsibilities with his mum, but soon taking over sole care of Charlie. Unfortunately at some point in the early 1990s HSLU collapsed and we were left high and dry in a legal limbo. As a result, there was an 8-year long complex and unusual legal dispute over whether in the circumstances we had tenancy rights. The council won the case last December. We expected to be given a new tenancy (as discussed during negotiations in 2000 with the council’s Housing Leader, Councillor Scott Reeve, and Steve Turner on behalf of the Borough Solicitor), but instead were shocked to be threatened with eviction.
‘ We say suspend the eviction - negotiate a sensible agreement: a new tenancy at 380, or rehousing on the Tower Gardens estate. Also, we must end the scandal of bed and breakfast accommodation while there are 100,000 homes in london left empty - decent homes for all!
‘ * Please write to leader of the Council, Cllr George Meehan at the Civic Centre, N22 (and send us a copy of your letter). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org * Protest on Saturday 19th May, 10.15am outside Cllr George Meehan’s surgery, George Lansbury Hse, Progress Way, N22 Media welcome. * Come to an all-day anti-eviction party at 380 Lordship Lane on Tuesday 22nd May (bailiffs due 10am). Media welcome. ‘
EUROPEAN CASE Helen and Dave assert that the McLibel trial breached, in particular, Article 6 [right to a fair trial] and Article 10 [right to freedom of expression] of the Human Rights Convention, and that English libel laws are incompatible with the convention. The McLibel 2 are seeking to defend the public's right to criticise companies whose business practices affect people's lives, health and the environment. They also seek an end to oppressive, unfair and archaic defamation laws and procedures in general, and in their case in particular. Under Article 10: Multinational corporations, should have no right to sue for libel as it is in the overriding public interest that they be subjected to unfettered scrutiny and criticism (as applies to governmental organisations), since they have huge power and influence. If there is a right to sue, it should be a defence for a defendant to show 'reasonable belief' in the words complained of, or that the issues are of public importance. Under Article 6: The McLibel case was unfair and oppressive due to several factors - for example, the imbalance of financial and legal resources as between the two sides and the denial of a jury trial.
TRIAL BACKGROUND McDonald's issued writs against the McLibel 2 on 20th September 1990 alleging they had been libelled in the London Greenpeace factsheet: "What's Wrong With McDonald's?". The McLibel trial began on 28th June 1994, and on June 19th 1997, after a trial lasting 314 days, Mr Justice Bell ruled that: McDonald's marketing has "pretended to a positive nutritional benefit which their food (high in fat & salt etc) did not match"; that McDonald's "exploit children" with their advertising strategy; are "culpably responsible for animal cruelty"; and "pay low wages, helping to depress wages in the catering trade." On March 31st 1999 the Court of Appeal further ruled that it was fair comment to say that McDonald's employees worldwide "do badly in terms of pay and conditions", and true that "if one eats enough McDonald's food, one's diet may well become high in fat etc., with the very real risk of heart disease." However the Courts ruled that the McLibel 2 had still libelled McDonald's over some points and outrageously ordered them to pay £40,000 damages to the $40 billion-dollar company. The McLibel 2 have refused to pay a penny.