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Copper Fittings Cartel Triggers £390 Million Damages Claim

The fate of a £390 million claim in respect of a price fixing cartel which operated in the copper fittings trade for more than 15 years before it was publicly exposed could all come down to a question of timing, a High Court ruling has revealed.

A large number of manufacturers were involved in the cartel, members of which were alleged to have allocated customers amongst themselves, agreed on price increases, colluded in tendering exercises and shared confidential information on commercial strategies and sales volumes. The existence of the cartel was exposed by a decision of the European Commission in 2006.

Companies within a building sector group which had bought many copper fittings during the relevant period claimed that they had been overcharged to the tune of £390 million and launched proceedings against two of the cartel’s members. One of the latter (company A) argued that the companies had suffered no recoverable loss and that their claim had in any event been brought too late.

The companies’ response to the latter argument was that the existence of the cartel had for many years been deliberately concealed and that they only became aware that they might have a valid claim on publication of the Commission’s decision. Details of the arguments being deployed on each side emerged as the Court gave a preliminary ruling in respect of contribution proceedings lodged by company A against another member of the cartel.