13th Dec 1996

Britain's longest-running court hearing, the so-called "McLibel" action brought by burger giant Mcdonald's against two environmental campaigners, ended on Friday but the two sides will have to wait for a verdict

Judge Rodger Bell could not say when he would give judgment in the case, which has taken up 314 days in court. Hundreds of witnesses have given evidence and huge piles of legal documents line the panelled walls of the dusty courtroom.

"It will take me some time to write it," Bell said. "I don't mean to be difficult when I say I don't know when I will deliver it (the verdict) because I don't know."

McDonald's sued the two environmental activists, Helen Steel, 32, and David Morris, 42, after they attacked the company's food practices and environment policy.

The world's biggest restaurant chain with annual sales of $38 billion sued the two for printing alleged lies about the company in a 1984 pamphlet, which claimed McDonald's promotes an unhealthy diet and damages the environment.

McDonald's says the pamphlet is untrue. The "David and Goliath" case, estimated to have already cost 10 million pounds ($16 million), began in 1990.

Steel and Morris, who have no legal background, had been forced to conduct their own defence after they were turned down for state legal aid.

In jeans and jumpers the pair made unlikely adversaries for Richard Rampton, the robed and wigged libel lawyer representing McDonald's. The company is estimated to be paying more than 5,000 pounds ($8,000) a day in legal fees.

Because of the expert evidence in the exhaustive case on topics ranging from food packaging, destruction of rain forests, labour practices and food manufacturing to health issues, the case was deemed too complicated to be decided by a jury.

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