Quartet of firms lead as CMA drops sports bra price-boost probe against major retailers

DLA Piper, Lewis Silkin, Reed Smith and Shepherd & Wedderburn have deflated a probe into the artificial boosting of sports bra prices by the UK’s new competition watchdog.

Wonderbra maker DB Apparel (DBA), John Lewis, Debenhams and House of Fraser were cleared of artificially pushing up the prices of Shock Absorber bras by the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) last month.

The investigation was launched by the former Office of Fair Trading (OFT) two years ago when the four were accused of entering into anti-competitive agreements between 2008 and 2011 in a “serious infringement of competition law”.

But the CMA concluded there were no grounds for action and dropped the case. The decision to shut down the probe after two years of investigation was a dramatic move for the new watchdog, which launched in April.

It marked a win for Shepherd & Wedderburn partner John Schmidt, who advised John Lewis and had already instructed One Essex Court’s Tom Sharpe QC in preparation for a court battle.

Lewis Silkin litigation head Tom Coates was acting for House of Fraser, instructing Monckton Chambers’ silk Daniel Beard QC.

Debenhams turned to DLA Piper partner Kate Vernon, who instructed Brick Court Chambers’ Mark Hoskins QC for the oral hearing in May while Reed Smith partner Edward Millar was fielded for France-based DBA, instructing Brick Court’s Marie Demetriou QC.

When the CMA took over the probe in April the OFT had gathered a large body of documentary evidence surrounding the alleged bilateral resale price maintenance. The CMA appointed a case decision group to look at that evidence, in particular focusing on email communications cited by the OFT as evidence of infringements.

The panel concluded that the parties provided credible alternative explanations for the emails “which materially undermines the reliance that can be placed on that evidence” and concluded that “in the light of the representations made, it has no grounds for action in relation to the allegation.