'Full force of the law' threatened over gas price-fixing allegations

 

Those involved in the alleged rigging of Britain's wholesale gas market will face the "full force of the law", Energy Secretary Ed Davey warned today.

Mr Davey promised "firm action" if there was any truth in allegations of gas price manipulation made by a whistleblower to the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and energy watchdog Ofgem.

In a statement to MPs, Mr Davey said: "I see it as my job to protect consumers, not least the most vulnerable who can suffer the most when markets are abused."

He said it was not possible to understand what impact any attempted manipulation, if proven, had on the market or prices paid by consumers.

But the Government had "absolute determination to clamp down on any abuse that is uncovered, wherever and by whoever".

Prime Minister David Cameron's official spokesman said that if the claims, published in the Guardian, were true then regulators should come down "very hard" on those responsible. He added that energy price manipulation was "totally unacceptable".

All six of the big energy companies have released statements denying any involvement in attempts to fix the £300 billion market.

The industry trade body, Energy UK, which represents the companies, said its members would co-operate fully with the regulators.

Angela Knight, Energy UK chief executive, said: "This is a very serious issue which must be investigated swiftly.

"The gas market is an international one with many overseas companies trading on it as well as organisations that are not energy companies.

"Our members will all co-operate fully with the regulators and others. Customers need to have confidence in markets and authorities need to have the powers to regulate well and take action if required."

The FSA and Ofgem are both looking into allegations made by whistleblower Seth Freedman, who worked at ICIS Heren, a company responsible for setting so-called benchmark prices.

Mr Freedman raised the alarm after identifying what he believed to be attempts to distort the prices reported by the company.

Ofgem was warned by ICIS Heren that it had seen evidence of suspect trading on September 28, the date that marks the end of the gas financial year.

It is believed prices went down by about 0.4% on September 28 - a key date as it can have an influence on future prices, according to the Guardian.

Mr Davey said his department and the Treasury were made aware of the allegations by the FSA last Friday.

In a statement to MPs, Mr Davey said: "These allegations of market manipulation are being taken very seriously. We will support the regulators taking whatever steps necessary to ensure that the full force of the law is applied, if they are true, so that any guilty parties are held to account."

Mr Davey encouraged anyone with information to contact the regulators, stressing that there were powers to protect the identity of whistleblowers.

The Energy Secretary said the UK had played a leading role in European Union-wide regulations for the market and if regulators needed more powers, they should tell his department.

Shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint said wholesale gas prices made up about half of the average bill.

She said: "Energy companies are very quick to blame wholesale costs when they put up people's bills, so any suggestion that the wholesale gas market has been manipulated is a very serious allegation that needs a full and rapid investigation."

Ms Flint called for energy to be pooled before it is sold to consumers by the various suppliers, making the market more open, transparent and competitive - and energy cheaper.

She also repeated her demand that industry watchdog Ofgem should be scrapped and replaced with "a tough new regulator".

Patrick Heren, who founded ICIS Heren but has since sold the company, said that his team spotted trades at unusual prices on a fairly regular basis, but were told to discount them when setting benchmark prices.

Anyone who failed to do so "was not doing his job", he said.

Mr Heren told BBC Radio 4's World At One: "What happened in this case was that traders put through large trades that were slightly out of the market, with the hope that we would take that as evidence to where the market was, when it quite clearly wasn't. So we would discount it."

Friends of the Earth's head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton called for a public inquiry into the UK's "broken" energy market.

He said: "Price-fixing claims like these highlight the urgent need to overhaul our energy system to make it clearer, fairer and cleaner.

"With the Energy Bill expected next week, ministers must seize the chance to end the nation's gas dependency and open up the market to a wider range of smaller firms generating affordable and clean British energy."

PA

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing