The Office of Fair Trading will pay back fines worth more than £45m to suppliers and retailers that resulted from its long-running investigation into price fixing in the dairy sector.
The competition watchdog today said the evidence on which the fines had been handed out was “insufficient to support an infringement finding” in its probes into milk and butter prices in 2002 and 2003.
Dairy Crest, Robert Wiseman Dairies and Lactalis McLelland joined Asda, Sainsbury’s and Safeway in agreeing to pay fines worth £116m after accepting liability for anti-competitive behaviour designed to fix dairy prices.
That sum will now be reduced to £70m, the OFT said.
The news also ends the involvement in the probe of Morrisons, which had denied all charges of price fixing.
“Morrisons has always believed strongly that it had no case to answer, maintaining that the company was not involved in any initiative to increase the price of dairy products,” the supermarket said in a statement.
Robert Wiseman also welcomed the decision and revealed that its fine would be cut from £6.1m to £4.2m.
In a separate announcement, the OFT dropped charges against Tesco for infringing competition law over milk and butter prices, and said it was giving the retailer a 10% discount to its fine for price-fixing over cheese – a charge Tesco did not contest.
Former Safeway boss Webster sued over dairy cartel fines (2 February 2010)
Dairies vent feelings as OFT drops investigation (25 October 2008)
Supermarkets admit milk price fix (7 December 2007)