Civil Liberties

The Famous "McLibel" Leaflet Was Co-Authored by an Undercover Cop

It led to a long court battle between McDonald's and two activists.


In the infamous McLibel case of the 1990s, McDonald's took two environmentalists to court under Britain's harsh libel laws for a pamphlet that charged the chain with various sins against workers, consumers, and nature. The company won a victory in court but not in the battle for public opinion: Not only was McDonald's widely (and rightly) seen as a censorious bully, but the debate ended up bringing far more attention to the very accusations the business was trying to squash. (This phenomenon, in which an attempt to censor speech instead spreads it further, would later become known as the Streisand effect.)

Now there's a new twist on the case. It turns out the leaflet at the center of the story was co-authored by a police infiltrator. The Guardian 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, a top-secret Metropolitan police unit that targeted political activists between 1968 until it was disbanded in 2008. 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.

The authors quote a "close friend from the time" who recalls that "Lambert was really proud of the leaflet. 'It was like his baby, he carried it around with him,' the friend said."

To read the rest of the article, go here. The book that revealed the story is called Undercover: The True Story of Britain's Secret Police, and it was written by the same pair who produced the Guardian piece, Paul Lewis and Rob Evans.