'McLibel' Defendants Offer To Settle

Food & Drink Daily July 5, 1995

Two environmentalists being sued by McDonald's in Britain's longest and most expensive libel case said Friday the case could end swiftly if the American fast food giant meets their demands.

"We would be prepared to consider allowing McDonald's to pull out of the case if they meet our demands," said Dave Morris, one of the defendants. "We believe our stand has been vindicated but we want to ensure that no one has to go through this kind of trial again."

Morris, an unemployed former postman, and ex-gardener Helen Steel have been battling McDonald's in court for more than a year. The case, nicknamed the McLibel case, has become a public relations disaster for McDonald's.

The world's biggest restaurant chain, with annual sales of $38 billion, is suing the two activists for allegedly printing libellous statements in a 1984 pamphlet claiming McDonald's promotes an unhealthy diet, damages the environment and exploits workers and children.

Deprived of legal aid, the pair have conducted their own defense while McDonald's costs are estimated at $8,000 a day.

A leading British libel expert has described it as a "David and Goliath case."

The defendants stand by their claims but are willing to end the trial if the company agrees not to sue other groups for making statements similar to those expressed in their pamphlet.

They also want McDonald's to apologize to people they have sued in the past and to make a substantial payment to a mutually agreeable third party as a peace offering.

Morris said the company has approached them to discuss ways to end the case, which could otherwise drag on until the end of the year. McDonald's has dropped its demand for an apology and is no longer seeking costs. Morris also said the company offered to make the compensation payment.

Mike Love, head of communications for McDonald's UK, refused to comment about confidential meetings that company representatives had with the defendants.

"We have always been keen to resolve the case," he said. "We came to court as a last resort."

McDonald's offer to end the case remains the same as it was on the first day of the trial, he said: The defendants must retract their statements and agree not to repeat them.

But that is unlikely.

"Effectively the tables have been turned and it's the corporation and their business practices that are on trial," Morris claimed.

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