The offices of several major oil companies were raided yesterday as the European Commission dramatically launched an investigation into claims of price fixing.
Oil giants BP and Shell were among those being probed in the hunt for evidence that motorists have been ripped off since as long ago as 2002.
A Downing Street official said it would be deeply concerning if evidence of price fixing was found, while the AA responded to the news in a statement claiming: “The lid is about to be blown off.”
A statement from the European Commission said it suspected the oil giants had “colluded in reporting distorted prices”, in order to rip-off motorists. It also warned that small changes to the stated price of fuel would have had a huge impact on the prices of crude oil, potentially harming final customers.
Since January 2000, the average price of petrol at UK pumps has almost doubled to over 139p.
Shocked MP’s responded to the news of the investigation with outrage. Shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint said if it was true laws outlawing cartels had been broken, and branded it “shocking behaviour”, while Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott raged: “Why have we had to wait for Brussels to find out?”
Amidst the reactions were also many accusations of weakness by the UK’s Office of Fair Trading, which reported in January that the petrol market is "working well".
Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow, accused the OFT of a "limp-wristed, lettuce-leaf" inquiry that failed to get to the bottom of unexplainable price rises.
The government have stated that the OFT’s probe had a much narrower remit of looking at prices at the pumps, not the prices of crude oil.
The European Commission said it was also looking at concerns that companies "may have prevented others from participating in the price assessment process, with a view to distorting published prices."