Albert v Ronald in battle of the burger

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As the two-year McLibel trial slowly draws to a close, an alternative campaign appears to be gaining ground. On the one side is McDonald's and a burgeoning legal team; on the other is Albert Beale, from Bloomsbury, central London.

He is frustrating the fast- food giant's attempts to extend opening hours at two London branches. So successful has he been that he is offering himself as a "freelance anti-planning consultant" to other people wishing to oppose McDonald's late licences.

Mr Beale, who edits an international directory of peace and environmental organisations from King's Cross, in London, began his campaign when he found that two McDonald's branches near his home - one in King's Cross and one in New Oxford Street - had applied for late licences.

"I'm the kind of person who goes around reading small print. I thought, well, as a concerned local citizen, I don't like this. I lodged lengthy objections with Camden council pointing out that there would be the added litter, plus local disturbance in a residential area. One of the ward councillors has even written to the licensing committee in support of my objections."

Mr Beale also objected on the grounds that he considered McDonald's to be "not fit and proper". At the first council hearing in July, he presented 40 pages of manuscript from the McLibel trial - which concerns a leaflet about the American burger company - to support his claim. The licensing hearing, attended by two representatives from McDonald's and a planning consultant, was deferred.

At the second meeting McDonald's was represented by eight people, including lawyers from a leading legal firm. Mr Beale managed to again have the decision deferred. By the third meeting, last Tuesday, McDonald's team had grown to nine. The licensing committee overruled McDonald's objections to the campaigner's request to film the meeting for the McSpotlight Internet site, part of a campaign supporting the two defendants in the McLibel trial. After four hours of technical argument, Mr Beale managed to ensure decisions on both applications were again deferred.

As the meeting was adjourned, McDonald's lawyer, Philip Kolbil, told the committee: "We're not going to wait forever," to which the chairman replied: "In that case, it could be no."

Mr Beale sees himself as an expensive little thorn in McDonald's side. But he accepts that if refused late licences, McDonald's is likely to

continue the legal process and this could be risky for local councils who do not want huge legal bills.

In the meantime, he and a fellow objector hope to extend their campaign. "To be honest, I didn't think I'd last the first meeting. McDonald's were certainly surprised that we've fought them through three."

Mr Beale thinks the battle will end within weeks, but he is producing a fact sheet on how people can block other McDonald's late licences.

"They've got to renew their night licences every year so we'll block them every year. Since McDonald's can be represented by a consultant, we will offer ourselves as anti-planning consultants free."

A spokesman for McDonald's said yesterday that Mr Beale was known as an anti- McDonald's campaigner. He said there was "nothing unusual" in the extended committee hearings, or in the number of people McDonald's employed to attend.