witness statement

name: Dave Morris
section: Publication
for: The Defence
experience: Activist


I am a principled activist who has been determined to fight injustice for many years. The 1985 London Greenpeace Factsheet is an excellent, well-researched leaflet. Its outrageous that McDonald's should try to suppress alternative points of view. Despite the enormous barriers to defending a libel case, I decided to stand up for free speech.


Full cv

full statement:

Last week I was informed that I had to do a personal witness statement. Neither me or Helen were aware that we had to do this. I've no idea what I'm expected to say. What follows is a bit of background about myself, about my involvement with London Greepeace and the Anti-McDonald's campaign, what I was doing at the time of the alleged 'libel', how I felt about getting a writ, and why I have been determined to defend the Factsheet's criticisms of McDonald's. I am 39 years old and I've always lived in London. On leaving school I spent a couple of years doing full time voluntary work among people with phyisical and mental disabilities. I then worked as a postman for many years, being an active trade unionist and elected Branch Secretary. For the last 10 years I have engaged in community work in Tottenham, most of the time involved in the local Unwaged Unemployed Centre where I am presently Secretary. I have a 4 year old son.

London Greenpeace Involvement

Since the early 1980s I have been involved with London Greenpeace. I first came across the group in the mid-70s when they seemed to be the first group in Britain to campaign against nuclear power - an issue I still feel very strongly about. I joined during the Falklands war because it was one of the few groups actively criticising both sides in the war. I particularly enjoyed during the next few years, answering dozens of letters each week, many from schoolchildren.

Why McDonalds

I remember that the anti-McDonald's campaign was launched to try to counter the billions of dollars spent by the company on its advertising and propaganda. The idea was to inform the public about the way multinationals exploit and abuse the planet. McDonald's was particulalry highlighted I recall because of its very high profile and so it could and should expect criticism. The campaign mushroomed beyond our expectations. We discovered there were already hundreds of groups worldwide campaigning over particular aspects of the company's practices (eg packaging, ranching, workers rights, animal suffering etc). But we helped to bring these strands of criticism together, especially with the launch of annual Anti-McDonald's Day.

There were about 20 people actively associated with the loosely-knit group around this time. I can't remember the name of the bloke who offered to write a Factsheet - he left the group soon after he completed it. I know he spent quite some time researching and writing it,. but he took all his background information with him when he left. I've not seen him since. I never helped write or print it.

The Factsheet was for specific enquiries rather than mass distribution. Any McDonald's enquiries, and usually other matters too, were dealt with by an informal 'sub-group' of the collective, which I wasn't involved with. We had a special Anti McDonald's tray for these letters. Otherwise, in general enquiries we put the latest version of the A5 leaflet in for the most part. Often if we had a lot of post, dozens of 'general enquiry kits' would be made up with a mixture of group leaflets enclosed. A short hand-written note was added to this - we felt that all personal enquiries should get a personal response, rather than just a Standard Letter. It was completely 'ad-hoc', depending on who was around and was interested, about who did the kits or which leaflets were put in, who did the personal replies etc. The group has always worked on trust and voluntary commitment rather than routines and official roles.In its way, it has been quite an effective group, not trying to become a large, bureaucratic or wealthy organisation, but encouraging other people to organise themselves and to speak for themselves about what concerns them, rather than looking to politicians and so on.

Change in Priorities

From about 1988 onwards I became increasingly involved with anti-poll tax activity, helping develop national links between the thousands of community based local groups which were mushrooming everywhere. I spent less time with London Greeenpeace.

In August 1989 my 3 month old son and his mother suffered an accident and I spent the next three and a half weeks in the children's ward of the local hospital and then the next 6 months caring for them both virtually all the time. During that time I only attended a handful of events special to me, mainly to do with work as Secretary of the local Unwaged Centre and involvement in the growing anti-poll tax movement. I virtually dropped out of the London Greenpeace, attending only one or two meetings to 'keep my oar in' so to speak. I can't remember being involved in any anti-McDonalds activities - I only recall attending one meeting at this time. This was the one about the group's future. I distinctly remember arguing for the group to concentrate on on other areas of campaigning rather than McDonalds which had taken up a lot of energy for the previous few years.

Outrage and Amazement

However, when we got our libel writs I was outraged. I felt it was blatant attempt to censor criticisms of the practices which the company had proved unable to defend. I was livid that a huge multi-national could attack a small group of concerned ecologists. And I was amazed and angry that I had been personaly singled out after such a hard-working previous year.

On reading and rereading the Factsheet I was once again impressed by how well written, incisive and down-to-earth it was. In fact in nearly 20 years of involvement in various communty-based campaigning groups, I can honestly say I've rarely seen such a good all-round leaflet.

In addition, I feel very deeply about the exploitation of non-unionised workers, and also about hunger and ecological destruction in our world.

I couldn't believe the nerve of a multinational asking me to apologise to them?! It is they who should apologise to the public for what they do. I decided I would be proud to have the opportunity to defend the Factsheet in public. Despite being penniless and denied legal aid, despite the hugely complex and unfair libel laws, despite having to research the information all over again by and large, despite domestic disruption caused by the case and despite personal exhaustion due to the workload, pressures of deadlines and of trying to fathom out what we're being expected to do at every stage of the case, despite having to stand up as ordinary members of the public in court and face barristers from a top city law firm, and despite not having had a decent holiday for years, I'm glad I made that decision.

Speaking Out

I don't blame the other 3 for not wanting to have to put up with this kind of aggravation. When we started, libel laws seemed like a bottomless pit of jargon and medieval processes. It is only the overwhelming support we've received from other enviromentalists and the public in general which has given me the strength to fight this case. That, along with the fact that the more I've learned about McDonalds, the more determined I've become to speak out.

It disgusts me that an organisation can spend billions on its own idiotic propaganda in order to boost its own massive profits, and then try to prevent members of the public from circulating an alternative view, not for their personal gain but out of genuine concern for all people, animals and our planet.

Preparation for the Case

Exploitation of the Animal, Natural and Human World

Animal suffering is unnecessary and cruel, and views about this are perfectly valid. I've been a vegetarian for over 15 years. I have read and heard much about 3rd World hunger and its causes, a major cause being the system of agribusiness and cash cropping replacing local self-sufficiency. Another cause is the production of meat in large quantities.

My experience is that all companies, including McDonald's, are motivated predominantly by profits and power, and that this is the major cause of the world's ecological and social problems.

I have been active around ecological concerns for 20 years, and what were then thought marginal or cranky points of view are now accepted by virtually all thinking people and even grudgingly admitted by companies and governments. This has been due to the untiring efforts of ecologists and grass-roots activity and criticism, and has been so despite opposition and obstruction by vested interests.

I believe that those motivated by profit and power, including McDonald's, have become fearful of such criticism and public protest and concern, and have been forced to fabricate 'policies' and a 'green' image, in order to present a front to the public in order to appease people. The damaging practices continue with some superficial tinkering with business-as-usual as long as their profits and status remain unaffected.

The Factsheet

Regarding production and distribution of the factsheet, I recall that while it was being written some of the group (I can't remember who) checked the sources of information used.

It wasn't, as far as I remember, handed out at demonstrations to the public due to the expense and unsuitability for a lay reader. It was kept for special enquiries. Various A5 leaflets were produced over the years with different texts and designs.

Regarding the Endsleigh St meetings, some which were advertised fully were well attended (20-40), others were more like internal discussions and only those who'd been associated with the group were present (plus sometimes an invited speaker).

I was aware at the time that 'Veggies' of Nottingham had a libel writ from McDonald's for reprinting the Factsheet, and that one or two sections were identified as 'objectionable' by McDonald's. We had continuous contact with Veggies throughout this situation and were aware that McDonald's found acceptable a slightly amended version, offered by Veggies. Veggies have continued to circulate their amended version of the London Greenpeace Factsheet (95% the same as the one subject to the present case), in bulk world-wide to this day.

Freedom of Speech and Libel Laws

I am aware that libel laws in other countries are not so suppressive of the written word, and that publications suppressed under UK laws are freely circulating in Europe, and the USA and other countries; as they should be here. I believe that a barrage of writs and legal threats from McDonald's is creating a 'climate of fear' in which organisations and the media are now terrified of making even the mildest criticisms of McDonald's practices. I think this is an unhealthy situation and a threat to free speech.

date signed: July 28th, 1993
status: Defendant
references: Not applicable/ available
exhibits: Not applicable/ available

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