Defending the Indefensible – Has Anything Changed in the ‘David and Goliath’ World ?

McDonalds is known to most UK animal activists as ‘McShitty’. This is really because of what was dubbed the ‘Mc Libel Case’ many years ago.


It is a story which goes back decades but is still very prominent in the minds of older generation animal activists such as myself (Mark).  I will try to summarise the issue as much as possible with big inputs from Wikipedia, a free encyclopedia site which I personally financially contribute to (to help them produce free data) each year.


Read all about it below. It was a huge ‘David and Goliath’ case; the big organisation (McDonalds) against animal / environmental activists Helen and David from London Greenpeace; which was not linked to the main Greenpeace organisation.  McDonalds flew into London all their big legal personnel from the USA in an attempt to simply crush the minnows named Helen and David.  The result was not quite as simple as McDonalds thought it would be.


And now in 2020; with the plight of the Amazon rainforest being destroyed and cattle farming in the area under vast scrutiny; you have to tell yourself that Helen and David were almost certainly correct with what they said all those years ago.  Sadly; as with so many correct people and organisations who speak out; the ;big guns’ and their lobbyists immediately go into overdrive with their vast financial support to eliminate the little ‘Davids’ who so very often speak the real truth.


I can personally remember doing animal rights marches decades ago in ol London town; and the Met police always diverting the march away from any McDonalds because of what was going on with the McLibel case at the time.


Most (or probably all) of those who have a happy meal at McDonalds now do not have a clue about the past actions taken to shut up anyone speaking out about environmental destruction; and animal and human (low wage) abuses.  We don’t forget; and despite how Mc dress up their foods as Vegan friendly and the rest; they will always, first and foremost, protect their financial interests and their name at any attempt.

Read below and decide for yourself;

Regards Mark.

Note – UK visitors may recognise a younger Kier Starmer in the video. He is now (2020) the leader of the Labour Party – the main UK opposition party to the current Conservative Party.


From our friends at Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

McDonald’s Corporation v Steel & Morris [1997] EWHC QB 366, known as “the McLibel case”, was an English lawsuit for libel filed by McDonald’s Corporation against environmental activists Helen Steel and David Morris (often referred to as “The McLibel Two”) over a factsheet critical of the company. Each of two hearings in English courts found some of the leaflet’s contested claims to be libellous and others to be true.

The original case lasted nearly ten years which, according to the BBC, made it the longest-running libel case in English history.[1] McDonald’s announced it did not plan to collect the £40,000 it was awarded by the courts.[2] Following the decision, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in Steel & Morris v United Kingdom the pair had been denied a fair trial, in breach of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to a fair trial) and their conduct should have been protected by Article 10 of the Convention, which protects the right to freedom of expression. The court awarded a judgement of £57,000 against the UK government.[3] McDonald’s itself was not involved in, or a party to, this action, as applications to the ECHR are independent cases filed against the relevant state

Franny Armstrong and Ken Loach made a documentary film, McLibel, about the case.



“What’s wrong with McDonald’s: everything they don’t want you to know”, the cover of the leaflet at the center of the libel case

Main articles: London Greenpeace and Helen Steel

Helen Steel and David Morris were two environmental activists of London Greenpeace, a small environmental campaigning group that existed between 1972 and 2001. In 1986, they co-authored a six-page leaflet titled “What’s wrong with McDonald’s: everything they don’t want you to know” of which they distributed “a few hundred copies” in Strand, London.[4][5]

The leaflet accused the company of paying low wages, of cruelty to animals used in its products and other malpractices.[6] The group were not affiliated with the larger Greenpeace International organisation, which they declined to join as they saw it as too “centralised and mainstream”.[7]

Libel charges

In 1990, McDonald’s brought libel proceedings against five London Greenpeace supporters, Paul Gravett, Andrew Clarke and Jonathan O’Farrell, as well as Steel and Morris, for distributing the sheet on the streets of London. This case followed past instances in which McDonald’s threatened to sue more than fifty organisations for libel, including Channel 4 television and several major publications. In all such cases, the media outlets settled and apologised.[8]

Under English defamation law, the defendant must show that each disparaging statement made is substantively true. This can be an expensive and time-consuming process. Gravett, Clarke and O’Farrell apologised as requested by McDonald’s, but Steel and Morris chose to defend the case.[9]

The two were denied Legal Aid, as was policy for libel cases, despite having limited income.[10] Thus, they had to represent themselves, though they received significant pro bono assistance, including from Keir Starmer. Steel and Morris called 180 witnesses, seeking to prove their assertions about food poisoning, unpaid overtime, misleading claims about how much McDonald’s recycled, and “corporate spies sent to infiltrate the ranks of London Greenpeace”.[11]

McDonald’s spent several million pounds, while Steel and Morris spent £30,000; this disparity in funds meant Steel and Morris were not able to call all the witnesses they wanted, especially witnesses from South America who were intended to support their claims about McDonald’s activities in that continent’s rainforests.[12]

In its libel allegation, McDonald’s asserted all claims in the pamphlet to be false.[13] They found it difficult to support this position despite the indirectness of some of the claims. The case eventually became a media circus. McDonald’s executives, including Ray Cesca, entered the witness box, enabling cross-examination by the defendants.[14]

In June 1995 McDonald’s offered to settle the case (which “was coming up to its [tenth] anniversary in court”[15]) by donating a large sum of money to a charity chosen by the two. They further specified they would drop the case if Steel and Morris agreed to “stop criticising McDonald’s”.[15] Steel and Morris secretly recorded the meeting, in which McDonald’s said the pair could criticise McDonald’s privately to friends but must cease talking to the media or distributing leaflets. Steel and Morris wrote a letter in response saying they would agree to the terms if McDonald’s ceased advertising its products and instead only recommended the restaurant privately to friends.[12]


High Court

The case was adjudicated by the Hon. Mr. Justice Rodger Bell.[16] On 19 June 1997, Bell J delivered his more than 1,000-page judgment largely in favour of McDonald’s, finding the claims that McDonald’s was responsible for starvation and deforestation were false and libellous.[17] The ruling was summarized by a 45-page paper read in court.[18] Steel and Morris were found liable on several points, but the judge also found some of the points in the factsheet were true.[12] McDonald’s considered this a legal victory, though it was tempered by the judge’s endorsement of some of the allegations in the sheet. Specifically, Bell J ruled that McDonald’s endangered the health of their workers and customers by “misleading advertising”, that they “exploit children”, that they were “culpably responsible” in the infliction of unnecessary cruelty to animals, and they were “antipathetic”[19] to unionisation and paid their workers low wages.[20] Furthermore, although the decision awarded £60,000 to the company, McDonald’s legal costs were much greater, and the defendants lacked the funds to pay it. Steel and Morris immediately appealed against the decision.[21]

In 1998 a documentary film was made about the case, also titled McLibel. This was updated in 2005 after the verdict of the final appeal.

In September 1998, the pair sued the Metropolitan Police for disclosing confidential information to investigators hired by McDonald’s and received £10,000 and an apology for the alleged disclosure.

Court of Appeal

An appeal began on 12 January 1999 and lasted 23 court days, ending on 26 February.[22] The case was heard in Court 1 of the Court of Appeal in the Royal Courts of Justice. The case was adjudicated by Lord Justices Pill and May and Mr Justice Keene. The defendants represented themselves in court, assisted by first year law student Kalvin P. Chapman (King’s College London).

McDonald’s were represented by libel lawyer Richard Rampton QC,[23] and a junior barrister, Timothy Atkinson,[24] and Ms Pattie Brinley-Codd of Barlow, Lyde & Gilbert.[25] Steel and Morris filed a 63-point appeal. They had requested a time extension, but were denied. The verdict for the appeal was handed down on 31 March, in Court 1 at the Royal Courts of Justice.[26]

The judges ruled it was fair comment to say that McDonald’s employees worldwide “do badly in terms of pay and conditions”[27] and true “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”.

As a result of their further findings against the Corporation, the three Lord Justices reduced Mr Justice Bell’s award of £60,000 damages to McDonald’s by £20,000. The court ruled against the argument by Steel and Morris that multinational corporations should no longer be able to sue for libel over public interest issues. Steel and Morris announced their intention to appeal over these and other points to the House of Lords, and then take the UK government to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary.

In response to the verdict, David Pannick QC said in The Times: “The McLibel case has achieved what many lawyers thought impossible: to lower further the reputation of our law of defamation in the minds of all right thinking people.”[28]

Steel and Morris appealed to the Law Lords, arguing that their right to legal aid had been unjustly denied. When the Law Lords refused to accept the case, the pair formally retained solicitor Mark Stephens[29] and barrister Keir Starmer QC (later Director of Public Prosecutions (England and Wales), Head of the Crown Prosecution Service and Leader of the Labour Party) to file a case with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), contesting the UK government’s policy that legal aid was not available in libel cases, and setting out a highly detailed case for what they believed to be the oppressive and unfair nature of UK libel laws in general, and in their case in particular.[30] In September 2004, this action was heard by the ECHR. Lawyers for Steel and Morris argued that the lack of legal aid had breached the pair’s right to freedom of expression and to a fair trial.

European Court of Human Rights

An anti-McDonald’s leafleting campaign in front of the McDonald’s restaurant in Leicester Square, London, during the European Social Forum season, 16-10-2004.

On 15 February 2005, the European Court of Human Rights ruled[31] that the original case had breached Article 6 (right to a fair trial) and Article 10 (right to freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights and ordered that the UK government pay Steel and Morris £57,000 in compensation.

In their ruling, the ECHR criticised the way in which UK laws had failed to protect the public right to criticise corporations whose business practices affect people’s lives and the environment (which violates Article 10); they also ruled that the trial was biased because of the defendants’ comparative lack of resources and what they believed were complex and oppressive UK libel laws

This has always been at the back of our minds with WAV – we attempt to tell the real truth and nothing but the truth regarding animal and environmental abuses.  At the end of the day; different people have different opinions, and we respect that.

We will continue to be a world animals voice confident in the data we provide and with the past McLibel issue firmly entrenched in our minds.

Regards Mark

WAV (London).

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