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BA execs walk free as cartel case collapses

CRIMINAL price-fixing and cartel proceedings against three former British Airways (BA) executives and one current one have been dropped.

Yesterday morning Justice Owen directed a jury at the Southwark Crown Court to acquit Alan Burnett, Iain Burns, Martin George and Andrew Crawley of BA of price-fixing charges.

The decision came after the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) withdrew its case against the BA four when it was revealed in court that up to 70,000 documents, including emails from former Virgin Atlantic executive Paul Moore had been overlooked during the investigation into the crime.

A statement from the watchdog said: “The OFT has decided to withdraw its criminal proceedings against four current and former [BA] executives for price-fixing. The decision follows the discovery last week of a substantial volume of electronic material, which neither the OFT nor the defence had previously been able to review.”

Sir Richard Branson’s airline was granted immunity during the investigation into the price-fixing allegations, after Virgin Atlantic turned to the OFT and made the claim there had been collusion between the two sets of executives.

The OFT said it will now review the role played by Virgin Atlantic and its advisers, which it warned may have consequences for Virgin Atlantic’s immunity from penalties.

Virgin Atlantic defended itself after it said it had “fully assisted the OFT throughout this process”.

A statement from the airline said: “Virgin Atlantic complied fully with the OFTs request. We believe therefore there is no grounds for immunity to be withdrawn.”

BA said they were delighted with the court’s decision and they had known Crawley had done nothing wrong.

The news is positive for BA boss Willie Walsh, who faces almost three weeks of industrial action.