Ex-BA chiefs face price-fixing charges

Four British Airways executives fixed the price of fuel surcharges in a secret deal with Virgin Atlantic, a court heard today.

The four defendants agreed with each other and others at Virgin Atlantic "to make and implement agreements which would lead, and which in fact did lead, to price fixing", Southwark Crown Court in central London was told.

BA's sales and marketing director Andrew Crawley, former head of communications Iain Burns, Alan Burnett, who led sales in the UK and Ireland; and one-time commercial director Martin George all deny a cartel offence under the Enterprise Act 2002.

Richard Latham QC, prosecuting for the Office of Fair Trading, told the jury of eight men and four women that the "crucial element" was that of dishonesty in a secret price-fixing arrangement.

"No one complains because no one knew what was going on," he said.

"But every single purchaser is a victim."

Cartels create a "secret profit" which can make millions of pounds for those involved, Mr Latham said.

He said the four defendants dishonestly agreed with Virgin Atlantic executives Paul Moore, William Boulter and Steven Ridgway to fix the price of fuel surcharges between July 1 2004, and April 20 2006.

But he said the three Virgin executives had blown the whistle on the criminal cartel and would be giving evidence for the prosecution in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

"The situation may arise where the defendants are little more culpable than the prosecution witnesses," he said.

"But if Virgin executives had not admitted their participation in price-fixing with British Airways the illicit activities would almost certainly have remained hidden to this very day."

British Airways was such a big player in the market that its actions were "bound to have an effect on all carriers", Mr Latham said.

Crawley, 43, of Puers Lane, Jordans, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire; Burns, 51, of Upper Hale Road, Farnham, Surrey; Burnett, 63, of St David's Drive, Englefield Green, Egham, Surrey; and George, 47, from Wensleydale Road, Hampton, Middlesex, are all on bail.