No consumer apathy in Which? case, say lawyers

The lack of consumers named in Which?’s landmark representative action is not due to consumer apathy, according to lawyers on the case.

Clyde & Co is advising the consumer group on its action, which involves suing retailer JJB Sports on behalf of people who bought overpriced replica England and Manchester United FC football shirts between 2000 and 2001.

Despite promising to seek redress for “hundreds of thousands” of wronged consumers, the action names just 130 individuals, as revealed by yesterday (27 September).

But Clydes head of EU competition Philippe Ruttley said this was not because of apathy. “We in fact got hundreds and hundreds of queries,” he said. The lag in time between the actual price-fixing and the action meant that many people no longer possessed vital evidence such as receipts, he explained. Individuals also dropped out because they did not want to give evidence in court.

The action is seeking both exemplary and compensatory damages. DLA Piper client JJB had already been found guilty of price-fixing in a 2003 decision by the Office of Fair Trading, landing an £18.6m fine. That probe also named Umbro and AllSports as colluders.

An intensive media campaign by Which? and Clydes earlier this year saw advertisements run in North West papers, encouraging consumers who thought they had bought an affected shirt to come forward to join the action.

It is the UK’s first representative action in front of the Competition Appeals Tribunal. Which? was granted powers to bring claims on behalf of wronged consumers under the Enterprise Act of 2002, but the football shirts case is the first time it has used such powers.