Chicago Tribune: Monday, December 11, 1995

A David and Goliath fight between international fast-food giant McDonald's and two unemployed environmental activists became the longest civil case in English legal history on Monday when it entered its 199th day. The world's biggest restaurant chain, which has annual sales of $38 billion, is suing Helen Steel and Dave Morris for libel on the grounds that a 1984 pamphlet which the two helped publish damaged McDonald's reputation.

The case was originally expected to last a few weeks but dragged on as the defendants called a long line of witnesses.

The former gardener and postal worker, who are defending themselves because they cannot afford lawyers, already have summoned around 80 witnesses on topics from food packaging to rain forest destruction. Another 60 are scheduled.

It is all part of an exhaustive case to back up allegations they made in the leaflet that McDonald's promotes an unhealthy diet, damages the environment and exploits workers and children.

McDonald's flatly denies the allegations and said it had no choice to take the case to court because the leaflet was distributed extensively and not just in Britain.

McDonald's, which wants the judge to issue a statement dashing the allegations, does not expect to receive significant damages from Morris or Steel, who in any case could not pay.

The London trial, dubbed the McLibel case, has gradually turned into a public relations nightmare for McDonald's. One former employee testified that his branch had been forced to keep on working as sewage leaked out onto the kitchen floor.

McLibel is estimated to be costing McDonald's more than 5,000 pounds ($8,000) a day in legal expenses. It could also end up costing the British taxpayer more than 2.5 million pounds ($4 million) by the time it winds up some time next year.

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