DLA senior partner failed to record football shirt price-fixing meeting

DLA senior partner Roger Lane-Smith failed to record a meeting in which the chairman of JJB Sports Dave Whelan was found to have rigged the price of football shirts with his competitors, David Hughes of all:sports and Mike Ashley of Sports Soccer.

Lane-Smith is a non-executive director of JJB, which was fined £8.37m by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) last August for illegal retail price-fixing.

Manchester United FC, Umbro, the Football Association and others were also found guilty, but all:sports and JJB appealed their case to the Competition Appeals Tribunal (CAT).

The CAT found that, contrary to his evidence, Whelan had discussed prices at the meeting of 8 June 2000 at Hughes’s house, at which Lane-Smith was not present.

At a later board meeting attended by Lane-Smith, it was agreed that he would record Whelan’s description of what had happened at the Hughes meeting – given at the board meeting – in a private note. Another witness gave evidence that this was in order that any note should attract legal privilege.

According to Lane-Smith’s evidence, he “overlooked” recording it.
The CAT, which upheld the OFT’s decision, said in its judgment: “We are surprised that no record of any kind apparently exists.” The tribunal added that the minutes would not, in its view, have attracted legal privilege in any event.

Lane-Smith said: “The OFT didn’t challenge it [his evidence] and, had they done so, I would have been more than happy to go into the witness box.”

An OFT spokesperson declined to comment.

Details of a diary kept by Hughes also emerged during the appeal.
In an entry scored out in three colours of biro, it said: “Agree Man United and England prices with everybody.”

In another, scored out with marker pen but revealed by forensic examination, it said: “Phone Mike Ashley to review Man United [kit] launch and other issues.”

JJB finance director David Greenwood said the company was considering a further appeal and called the CAT’s decision “perverse”.

A spokesperson for all:sports said: “all:sports is currently reviewing the judgment and exploring all its options.”

With regard to the diary entries, he said: “all:sports disagrees with the tribunal’s conclusions. The full and innocent explanation was
set out in its ‘post-closing observations’, responding to late submissions by the OFT.”