Fast food chain McDonald’s has won a partial victory in its epic libel trial against two environmental campaigners.
The pair, Helen Steel and Dave Morris, had published a leaflet accusing the corporation of a series of unethical and environmentally destructive activities.
At the end of the longest trial in English legal history, the judge, Mr Justice Bell, agreed with the fast food giant that some of the claims made in the leaflet were unjustified.
These included allegations that the chain was responsible for destroying rain forests, causing starvation in the developing world, and serving unhealthy food.
But in a serious blow to the company’s efforts to present itself as socially responsible, the judge decided it was true that McDonald’s targeted its advertising at children, who pestered their parents into visiting company’s restaurants.
He also backed claims that the company had treated animals cruelly, and that its workers’ low pay had helped to depress wages in the catering trade.
Ms Steel and Mr Morris were ordered to pay McDonald’s £60,000. But Ms Steel said: “McDonald’s don’t deserve a penny and in any event we haven’t got any money.”
The activists remained defiant despite their partial defeat and urged people to make up their own minds about the arguments.
The pair, who had represented themselves throughout the 314-day trial, complained it was unfair that legal aid was not available for libel cases.
McDonald’s said it had gone to court to protect its reputation.
Chairman of McDonald’s UK, Paul Preston, said: “For the sake of our employees and our customers we wanted to show these serious allegations to be false and I’m pleased we’ve done so.”
Courtesy BBC News
Despite winning the courtroom battle, McDonald’s attempt to clear its name was widely regarded by commentators as a public relations disaster. The lawsuit cost the company £10m.
In March 1999 the Court of Appeal reduced the amount of damages awarded to McDonald’s from £60,000 to £40,000, although it received nothing from the unemployed activists, known as the McLibel Two.
In July 2000, Scotland Yard awarded the two £10,000 after they had accused the Metropolitan Police of disclosing confidential information to investigators working for the hamburger chain during the epic trial.
McDonald’s fortunes have since declined due to public fears over “mad cow” disease and fierce competition from rivals such as Burger King, Wendy’s and Taco Bell.
It reported its first ever loss in January 2003 after closing hundreds of restaurants around the world.
In February 2005 the European Court of Human Rights ruled the couple should have been awarded legal aid in the epic trial. The lack of such aid effectively denied the pair the right to a fair trial, the court ruled.