McDonald's is claiming victory after the longest court battle in
British legal history.
But the two environmental activists who resisted the fast-food
giant's bid to sue them for libel say the case is not over yet.
They plan to take it to the European Court of Human Rights in
Meanwhile much legal, business, and media opinion says Big Mac's
three-year libel action - which cost it an estimated 10 million
($16.5 million) - has backfired, damaging the company's image.
Vegans David Morris, an unemployed postman, and Helen Steel, a
hotel worker, were fined a total of 60 thousand for libeling
McDonald's on several counts. But on three key issues, including
cruelty to animals on the part of McDonald's, the court found in
their favor. That is fueling the pair's determination to continue
"We have nothing to lose and everything to gain," Mr. Morris
said after the verdict. "Let's see what Big Mac has to say to the
judges in Luxembourg."
Paul Preston, president of McDonald's UK, said last Thursday he
was "broadly satisfied" with the judgment. "It represents a
thorough audit of our business. We believe that our employees and
customers will be reassured."
But Stephen Brocklebank-Fowler, head of Citygate Corporate
public relations, says McDonald's "scored one of the most extended
own-goals in the recent history of public relations," using a
soccer metaphor for scoring a point for the other side.
Sarah Webb, a leading libel lawyer, says the damages McDonald's
has been awarded "must be considered small, and the parts of the
case the company has lost have to be seen as harmful to its image
Stefano Hatfield, editor of the British advertising journal
Campaign, says McDonald's "paid a high price," because pursuing
libel cases in Britain is "a risky business."
The Times of London called the outcome "a Pyrrhic victory" for
McDonald's, and the Daily Telegraph described it as a win "without
What the media dubbed the "McLibel" case began in 1994.
McDonald's accused the couple, whose combined annual income is 7
thousand, of distributing a pamphlet containing lies and slurs
about the company and its products.
The pamphlet said the company was responsible for (among other
alleged sins) serving unhealthy food, causing starvation in the
third world, and destroying Latin American rain forests.
McDonald's waited nearly five years after the pamphlet was
published before serving writs on Morris and Ms. …