A HOLLOW VICTORY: McDonald's under attack as it wins libel case
Burger giants McDonald's were rocked yesterday when a top judge ruled that they exploit children and are cruel to animals.
The judge in the "McLibel" case also ruled that customers who ate McDonald's food several times every week ran the risk of heart disease.
Mr Justice Bell added the low wages paid by the multi-billion company depressed salaries in the rest of the catering industry.
His criticisms came at the end of Britain's longest ever trial - between the burger firm and two environmental campaigners who distributed anti-McDonald's leaflets in 1986.
The 314-day battle in the High Court in London has cost the company a staggering #10million.
The company won the case yesterday after the judge ruled that the leaflet, What's Wrong With McDonald's, was defamatory.
He awarded total damages of #60,000 against single-parent Dave Morris, 43, and 31-year-old barmaid Helen Steel.
But McDonald's lost two crucial and embarrassing points.
The leaflet had alleged that the company's advertising campaigns trapped children into thinking they were not normal if they didn't go to McDonald's, bringing pressure on their parents.
Mr Justice Bell said that this was true.
"McDonald's advertising and marketing is in large part directed at children with a view to them pressuring or pestering their parents to take them to McDonald's," he said.
He added that "it is true" that McDonald's "exploit children by using them as more susceptible subjects for advertising".
The judge also said that chickens and pigs were kept in cruel, restrictive conditions.
The campaigners had alleged in their leaflet that McDonald's food contributed towards heart disease and cancer.
Mr Justice Bell said that was basically not true.
But he added: "The small proportion of customers who eat McDonald's food several times a week will face the very real risk of heart disease if they continue to do so throughout their lives."
During the one-hour, 45-minute summary of his judgment, Mr Justice Bell also addressed the way the company treated their often very young staff.
The judge said that McDonald's "does pay its workers low wages, thereby helping to depress wages for workers in the catering trade in Britain".
But he ruled for McDonald's on other details of the libel action.
He said that it was not true that the company had a part in the destruction of the rain forests.
They weren't to blame for litter and didn't discriminate against black employees.
During the case, it emerged McDonald's went to great lengths to find out who was giving out the leaflets.
They hired spies to infiltrate the anarchist group to which Helen and Dave belonged.
One woman spy even had an affair with a member of the group before dropping him abruptly.
The spies attended meetings, stood on pickets and handed out the leaflet at the heart of the case.
One spy was so unhappy with the work, she turned against McDonald's and gave evidence for the defence.
After the hearing, Helen said defiantly: "We are not going to pay. I don't have the money and they don't deserve it.
"I don't think that McDonald's can claim a victory. We have won on two major points and we will now go the European Court of Human Rights."
Helen told how the trial had taken its toll, saying she hadn't had time for a boyfriend.
She had just one brief holiday during the trial - walking in Scotland.
She recalled: "I had just climbed up Ben Lomond - it was lovely, a great view.
"I was really relaxed when I saw this guy wearing a McDonald's T-shirt. It said `McDonald's - 90billion people served'!"
Dave said: "We face bankruptcy but that's trivial compared with what McDonald's are doing to our planet.
"Who is going to defend the children who are being exploited and the animals that are being tortured and murdered?"
McDonald's boss Paul Preston, who ordered the libel case, said: "There are aspects of the judgment we'll have to review."
He insisted their advertising complied with the law. But when asked about animal cruelty, Mr Preston walked out of his press conference without replying.