Two rolled lead firms face £11m fines after illegal cartel admission

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Two of the UK’s leading suppliers of rolled lead have admitted to taking part in an illegal cartel, which could see them face fines of more than £11m

Rolled lead is mainly used for roofing. The confession from two of the largest players in the market – Associated Lead Mills Ltd and H.J Enthoven Ltd (trading as BLM British Lead) – follows an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

A third company, Calder Industrial Materials Ltd, is also under investigation in relation to one of the arrangements and has not made any admissions.

In its original provisional findings, the CMA alleged that Associated Lead Mills, BLM British Lead and Calder Industrial Materials – which together account for about 90% of UK rolled lead supplies – entered into an illegal cartel to share the market amongst themselves.

The CMA has now revised its provisional findings and issued the three firms with a ‘supplementary statement of objections’, which outlines its updated allegations.

The CMA’s revised provisional view is that there was not a single overall cartel arrangement, but rather four individual arrangements that broke competition law.

The CMA’s revised provisional findings indicate that Associated Lead Mills and BLM British Lead entered into arrangements including:

  • Sharing the market, including by arranging not to target certain customers
  • Colluding on prices
  • Exchanging commercially sensitive information on prices
  • Arranging not to supply a new business that risked disrupting the firms’ existing customer relationships and was also a potential competitor in the market.

Admission

In the light of the CMA’s updated provisional findings, both Associated Lead Mills and BLM British Lead have now admitted to their parts in these arrangements, which took place between October 2015 and March 2017.

The two rolled lead firms have agreed to pay maximum fines totalling more than £11m, although the exact amount will be determined at the end of the CMA’s investigation, if there is a formal final decision that the law has been broken.

With regard to the third firm, Calder Industrial Materials, the CMA has provisionally found that it became involved, at a later stage, in the arrangement with Associated Lead Mills and BLM British Lead not to supply a new business that risked disrupting the firms’ customer relationships and was a potential competitor in the market.

Calder Industrial Materials has made no admission of liability and the CMA’s investigation is continuing. The CMA says no assumption should be made that Calder Industrial Materials has broken the law.

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