McLibel – The North London postman and gardener who took on McDonalds and won.
Helen Steel and Dave Morris
In 1990, McDonald’s brought libel proceedings against five London Greenpeace supporters, including north Londoners Helen Steel and Dave Morris, for distributing a sheet on the streets of London listing accusations against the powerful McDonalds hamburger chain. In previous cases against media outlets there had been settlements and apologies.
The following is based on material in Wikipedia .
The two defendants had to represent themselves, though they received significant pro bona assistance, including from a young (Sir) Keir Starmer.
Although Steel and Morris were found liable on several points the judge at the original case in 1997 ruled that some of the points in the factsheet were true:
- McDonald’s endangered the health of their workers and customers by “misleading advertising”
- that they “exploit children”
- they were “culpably responsible” in the infliction of unnecessary cruelty to animals
- they were “antipathetic” to unionisation and paid their workers low wages.
The Court of Appeal later ruled in 1999 that:
- it was fair comment to say that McDonald’s employees worldwide “do badly in terms of pay and conditions”
- true that “if one eats enough McDonald’s food, one’s diet may well become high in fat, etc., with the very real risk of heart disease”.
The case was taken to the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in 2005 that:
- the original case had breached Article 6 (right to a fair trial) and Article 10 (right to freedom of expression).
- the trial was biased because of the defendants’ comparative lack of resources and what they believed were complex and oppressive UK libel laws.
Further developments included the discovery in 2016 of the extent of undercover police surveillance and infiltration of the activist’s London Greenpeace organisation and personal lives.