John Dodds slumps in his seat and shakes his head with derision. On the other side of the hearing room a lawyer representing the Office of Fair Trading explains to Mr Justice Barling why Kier’s £17.9m cover-pricing fine was calculated as a percentage of turnover rather than profit.
Dodds, who retired as Kier CEO earlier this year, shakes his head again and snorts.
This was yesterday, during the first day of several weeks of appeals at the Competition Appeals Tribunal, where 25 contractors are seeking reductions in the fines they were handed by the OFT last year, mainly for cover-pricing.
Dodds sits next to the Kier financial director Deena Mattar and listens to the OFT lawyer explain why his former firm’s entire profit for 2009 was wiped out by the fine. Mr Justice Barling and his two colleagues on the hearing panel ask questions which hint that they believe profit should have been a consideration.
Kier’s lawyer sits and listens. One stomach-churning detail he mentioned during his presentation was that Kier’s fine would have been £2m less if based on its 2009 rather than 2008 results, something it was two weeks from being able to do. Oomph.
The two-hour hearing concludes. Dodds and Mattar enter a private consultation room with Kier’s legal team. It lasts about 10 minutes, after which they all exit, looking fairly confident. Neither Dodds nor Mattar will comment. We share a lift, along with Kier’s lawyers, who they ask to say nothing. The lift descends in silence.
Then Mattar tells me, “Don’t forget, it’s Galliford Try on Friday.”
Indeed it is. After the hearings all the firms will have the chance to make written submissions, before a decision is made sometime close to Christmas. Judging by the arguments and subsequent questioning by the panel this afternoon, it looks like Kier and the other guilty parties could have a happy Yuletide.
Andrew Hankinson is Building’s deputy news editor