Their London headquarters were searched for possible evidence of price rigging by officers from European competition authority
Two of Britain’s biggest oil companies were raided by investigators today over allegations that motorists have been ripped off at the petrol pump for years.
The London headquarters of BP and Shell were searched for possible evidence of price rigging by officers from the European Commission’s competition authority which is carrying out a probe across the Continent.
The companies are suspected of falsely setting the price of oil going back to 2002 and since then the price of a litre of petrol has risen around 80% to about £1.35 a litre.
MP Robert Halfon, who has campaigned for an investigation into the price of oil, said the rises had been “crushing families across Britain.”
He said that British authorities should join the European probe and urged oil companies to “come clean and show some responsibility for what is happening to the international price.”
The European Commission said: “Even small distortions of assessed prices may have a huge impact on the prices of crude oil, refined oil products and biofuels purchases and sales, potentially harming final consumers.”
The EC added that the raids were “a preliminary step to investigate suspected anti-competitive practices” but the inquiry “does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself.”
Brian Madderson, chairman of the Petrol Retailers’ Association, said motorists could have been overcharged “thousands of pounds each” over the past ten years.
Senior Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott said: “All credit to the European Commission for taking action if they have evidence of collusion but why have we had to wait for Brussels to find out if British oil giants are ripping off British customers?”
Shadow energy and climate change secretary Caroline Flint said: “These are very concerning reports, which if true, suggest shocking behaviour in the oil market that should be dealt with strongly.
“When the allegations of price fixing in the gas market were made, Labour warned that opaque over-the-counter deals and relying on price reporting agencies left the market vulnerable to abuse.
“These latest allegations of price fixing in the oil market raise very similar questions. Consumers need to know that the prices they pay for their energy or petrol are fair, transparent and not being manipulated by traders.”
Shadow financial secretary to the Treasury Chris Leslie said: “If oil price fixing has taken place it would be a shocking scandal for our financial markets.
“Labour tabled amendments in Parliament last year calling for commodities like oil to be part of the Financial Conduct Authority’s regulatory net, but Ministers refused to act. They should explain why they complacently failed to do so.”
A BP spokesman said tonight the company was “co-operating fully with the investigation” but was unable to comment further “at this time.”
A Shell spokesman said both companies were “currently assisting the European Commission in an inquiry into trading activities.”
He added: “We are fully co-operating with this investigation.”
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