Page last updated at 10:01 GMT, Thursday, 12 June 2008 11:01 UK

OFT gets first cartel convictions

Bundles of dollars next to a keyboard
The men were filmed discussing illegal activity in the US

Three men have been jailed for fixing prices of marine hose equipment, the first convictions for cartel activity secured by the Office of Fair Trading.

Peter Whittle, David Brammar and Bryan Allison were sentenced to between two and a half and three years at Southwark Crown Court after pleading guilty.

They admitted restricting supplies and rigging bids for equipment used by clients between 2003 and 2007.

Their activity inflated prices for UK customers, including the government.

'Highly sophisticated'

Brammar and Allison were directors of Dunlop Oil and Marine, a Grimsby-based manufacturer of marine hose which employed Whittle to co-ordinate cartel activities around the world.

Marine hose is used by the defence and oil industries for moving oil between tankers and storage facilities and Dunlop's clients included the Ministry of Defence.

The three men were arrested in the US in May 2007 following raids at their UK homes and after a meeting in which they discussed illegal activity was secretly filmed.

After agreeing a plea bargain with the US authorities, they returned to the UK for trial in December when they were re-arrested and charged.

This first criminal prosecution sends a clear message to individuals and companies about the seriousness with which UK law views cartel behaviour
John Fingleton, OFT chief executive

Brammar and Allison were each sentenced to three years imprisonment while Whittle received a two and a half year jail term.

In addition, the three were each disqualified from becoming a company director for between five and seven years.

'Clear message'

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) was given enhanced powers in 2003 to seek criminal prosecutions for individuals suspected of cartel activity.

OFT chief executive John Fingleton said the watchdog would continue to "vigorously" prosecute cases where it found such behaviour.

"This was a highly sophisticated and well-organised cartel, involving all the major manufacturers of marine hose worldwide over many years," he said.

"This first criminal prosecution sends a clear message to individuals and companies about the seriousness with which UK law views cartel behaviour."

Legal experts said they expected more convictions for such behaviour in the future.

"It takes time for competition authorities to uncover cartel activity but they are focused on doing so now more than ever," said Mark Tricker, competition lawyer at Norton Rose.

"Anyone who has participated in a cartel since 2003 should be extremely worried."

The European Commission is currently investigating the case and the companies alleged to have been involved.

These include Bridgestone, Yokohama Rubber, Italy's Manuli Rubber, Parker ITR and Trelleborg of Sweden.

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