The UK’s competition watchdog has suffered an embarrassing court blow after a jury found two directors not guilty of price-fixing.
Nicholas Stringer, former managing director of Galglass, and Clive Dean, of Kondea, were both acquitted at Southwark Crown Court of dishonestly rigging bids and fixing the prices of galvanised steel water storage tanks between 2005 and 2012.
The prosecution alleged the arrangement enabled the companies to raise the price of the tanks, which were supplied to customers ranging from industrial companies to supermarkets, care homes and hospitals. A third man, Nigel Snee, former managing director at Franklin Hodge, a Hereford-based liquid storage tank manufacturer, pleaded guilty to the same offence last year. He is yet to be sentenced.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) insisted the case was properly brought.
However the legal defeat will be an awkward reminder of the CMA’s predecessor, the Office of Fair Trading’s failure to successfully prosecute alleged cartel activity. The OFT lost a high-profile case against four BA executives for price-fixing.
Legal experts said the case was brought under the old legislation, which required for individuals concerned to act dishonestly. Since April 2014 under a new law, the CMA no longer need prove individuals acted dishonestly. BA agreed to pay a £121.5m fine later reduced to £58.5m.
Elly Proudlock, of WilmerHale law firm, said: “This will be an unwelcome defeat for the CMA, who will have hoped to make a break from the mistakes of the past.”
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