New documents made available by the Competition Appeal Tribunal appear to be an explosive new twist in the case between Agents’ Mutual and Connells’ owned brand Gascoigne Halman.
Neither Gascoigne Halman nor Agents’ Mutual would yesterday comment on the latest development.
The latest twist centres on four tapes and transcripts which were recordings of meetings in Northern Ireland last year.
The tribunal, which went on to describe them as “corporate espionage”, has at the request of Gascoigne Halman’s legal team allowed them – narrowly – as evidence.
However, the Tribunal did say that there was a “long” list of factors against admission.
First, it said, the tapes are “the result of covert recording of conversations whose protagonists (apart from the persons making the recording) did not know they were being recorded”. This was possibly in breach of Northern Ireland law, and so were potentially illegal.
The Tribunal did not know how the tapes and transcripts were originally obtained. It did know that two people, named only as Y and Z, were involved in the recording.
However, it did not know whether the recording was complete or selective, and whether tracks had been “spliced”.
The Tribunal said it had concerns “that we cannot dismiss”, going on to say: “That is particularly so, given the fact that the audio files were made for what we will broadly term ‘corporate espionage’ purposes.”
The tribunal said the audio files “are of relatively poor quality” and that there were reasons for “treating the transcripts with especial caution”.
Ian Springett, boss of Agents’ Mutual and its portal OnTheMarket, had not been at any of the Northern Ireland meetings concerned.
Because the application had been made in the middle of the trial, it would be “entirely unreasonable” to require Agents’ Mutual to do anything in response to this late evidence.
Mr Justice Marcus Smith, chairman of the Tribunal, Peter Freeman QC and Brian Landers conclude: “Taking all of these factors into account, we unanimously rule that – by an extremely narrow margin … the audio files and the transcripts should be admitted into the proceedings.”
In the second new document made public, the Tribunal ordered that the identity of the ‘confidential source’ be deleted from the public version of the hearing transcript.
Anyone present in court on February 9 must not disclose that identity to any other person.
Asked for a comment, a spokesperson for Agents’ Mutual referred us to a statement issued previously, which said: “It would be inappropriate to give a running daily commentary through the media while formal proceedings at the Competition Appeal Tribunal are ongoing.
“Many claims, counter-claims and allegations have inevitably been made and reported during the proceedings.
“These matters should, and will, be determined on the evidence at trial by the Tribunal.”
A spokesperson for Gascoigne Halman told us: “We won’t be commenting while this is ongoing.”