Morrisons and Tesco hit back in OFT dairy inquiry

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The Independent Online

Tesco and Morrisons vigorously denied any wrongdoing yesterday after the Office of Fair Trading said it had additional evidence to support its allegations of past price-fixing in the dairy market.

The two supermarkets are the only parties still contesting allegations of anti-competitive practices which were made by the OFT in 2002 and 2003. The others – Asda, Sainsbury's, Safeway (before it was acquired by Morrisons in 2004), Dairy Crest, the Cheese Company, Lactalis McLelland and Robert Wiseman Dairies – have all admitted their involvement in pricing activities concerning one, or all, categories of milk, butter or cheese. In 2007, the OFT said these companies had agreed to pay penalties amounting to a combined fine of £116m.

Yesterday, the OFT said Morrisons and Tesco now had the opportunity to respond to its supplementary statement of objectives, which followed its earlier version in 2007, but added that it should not be assumed that the law had been broken. Lucy Neville-Rolfe, the executive director of corporate and legal affairs at Tesco, said: "We have always made clear that we did not collude with anyone and that remains the position."

A spokeswoman for Morrisons said: "It remains our firm belief that there are no reasonable grounds for the OFT's allegations against us and no evidence to suggest our involvement. Therefore we are continuing to contest the provisional finding and make strong representations that Morrisons should not be part of this inquiry."