In a plot twist that would seem ridiculous in a Hollywood movie, a new book has revealed that an undercover London cop helped write an anti-McDonalds leaflet for a Greenpeace group that sparked the longest-running libel case in British legal history.
The “McLibel” case, as it came to be known, was a notorious PR disaster for the fast food giant. It began when two activists passed out the flyers in 1986 in front of a restaurant. The leaflets made various accusation against the company, including that it was responsible for Third World poverty. McDonalds tried to make an example out of the basically-indigent pair by bringing suit against them.
Pursing the case cost the company millions in legal fees and generated an avalanche of negative press. McDonalds won it in 1997 but it was a pyrrhic victory. The verdict was later overturned by a European court in 2009.
It now turns out that one of the people responsible for the flier that caused it all was police officer who was covertly spying on the environmentalist group all along. The Guardian paper reports:
The true identity of one of the authors of the “McLibel leaflet” is Bob Lambert, a police officer who used the alias Bob Robinson in his five years infiltrating the London Greenpeace group, is revealed in a new book about undercover policing of protest, published next week.
Lambert was deployed by the special demonstration squad (SDS) – a top-secret Metropolitan police unit that targeted political activists between 1968 until 2008, when it was disbanded. He co-wrote the defamatory six-page leaflet in 1986 – and his role in its production has been the subject of an internal Scotland Yard investigation for several months.
At no stage during the civil legal proceedings brought by McDonald’s in the 1990s was it disclosed that a police infiltrator helped author the leaflet.
Lambert was lauded by colleagues in the covert unit for his skilful infiltration of animal rights campaigners and environmentalists in the 1980s. He succeeded in transforming himself from a special branch detective into a long-haired radical activist who worked as a cash-in-hand gardener. He became a prominent member of London Greenpeace, around the time it began campaigning against McDonald’s in 1985. The leaflet he helped write made wide-ranging criticisms of the company, accusing it of destroying the environment, exploiting workers and selling junk food.
Four sources who were either close to Lambert at the time, or involved in the production of the leaflet, have confirmed his role in composing the libellous text. Lambert confided in one of his girlfriends from the era, although he appeared keen to keep his participation hidden. “He did not want people to know he had co-written it,” Belinda Harvey said.
By the time the leaflet became the center of a lawsuit, Lambert’s deployment had ended and he had vanished from the group.