Stores lose price fixing appealsHigh street names face multi-million pound fines

20 October 2006

Three major high street stores face multi-million pound fines after losing their appeals against price fixing charges.

The Court of Appeal backed an Office of Fair Trading (OFT) charge that Littlewoods and Argos had agreed to fix the price of Hasbro toys including, ironically, the board game Monopoly.

Hasbro had also been charged with price fixing but escaped a fine because it provided crucial evidence that initiated the investigation and had co-operated fully with the OFT.

Argos, which now faces a fine of £15 million, said it was seeking leave to appeal to the House of Lords over the decision, while Littlewoods was fined £4.5 million for its part in the price fixing.

Football kits

JJB Sports has also pledged to fight on after losing its appeal against a £6.7 million fine for price fixing on replica football kits.

In 2003 JJB Sports was accused by the OFT of fixing the price of Umbro strips, including England and Manchester United shirts.

It was one of 10 companies accused of agreeing a fixed price on top-selling adult and junior short-sleeved shirts. At the time adult shirts sold for £40, but cost only £21.30 wholesale. After VAT this meant a massive 60 per cent mark-up for retailers.

JJB, which runs about 438 stores, denied the charges and called on the Competition Appeal Tribunal and then the Court of Appeal to reverse the decision.

Lords appeal

It said: ‘JJB is naturally disappointed with this result and remains of the view that it did not infringe competition law.

‘JJB is considering its options along with its legal advisers, but will today apply to the Court of Appeal for leave to appeal to the House of Lords on certain aspects of the judgment.’

Reacting to the decision by the Court of Appeal, OFT Chief Executive, John Fingleton, said: ‘This is great news for the consumer. Anti-competitive agreements between firms to fix prices substantially harm customers.

‘The OFT is determined to detect and punish those that are involved in agreements such as this and this judgment confirms our approach.'