OFT immunity policy means truth unclear

JURORS trying the case of four senior British Airways executives, including one from London, who are alleged to have taken part in a price-fixing cartel with Virgin Atlantic, have been warned that the prospect of immunity may taint the evidence of Virgin staff.

The court heard yesterday that Virgin Atlantic had received immunity from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), which launched the original legal battle against BA, after it essentially “blew the whistle” on years of colluding between the airlines.

Clare Montgomery QC warned jurors that the UK regulator’s policy of offering immunity to the first party to confess to an illegal and dishonest cartel may prompt false confessions of guilt.

Montgomery said the jury would need to consider whether the Virgin executives thought they were acting dishonestly at the time or whether they were simply saying they were dishonest now in a bid to avoid prosecution. On Wednesday, Montgomery, defending BA’s one-time commercial director Martin George described the situation as a “race to confess”.

George, sales and marketing director Andrew Crawley, former head of communications Iain Burns, and Alan Burnett, who led sales in the UK and Ireland, all deny a cartel offence under the Enterprise Act 2002.

The four defendants are accused of dishonestly agreeing with Virgin executives Paul Moore, William Boulter and Steven Ridgway to fix the price of fuel surcharges between 1 July 1 2004, and 20 April 2006.

The four could face up to five years in jail if a jury at the Southwark Crown Court finds them guilty.