A MAJOR Poole company has been fined £2.7million after attempting to fix the prices of its lighting products sold online.

The National Lighting Company (NLC), which owns Poole Lighting, warned online sellers that they would not be allowed to sell its light fittings if they discounted them below an approved price.

The business tried to avoid detection by not putting the policy in writing – and instructions were issued to delete some emails from its server, an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) revealed.

The company has accepted the conclusion of the CMA but said it had never intended to harm customers, only to “protect” traditional sellers.

The CMA said it had “reasonable grounds for suspecting” that other suppliers had attempted to apply similar restrictions.

The CMA began an investigation into NLC in Poole in 2016, turning up at its offices and requiring it to produce documents.

It found the company was attempting to impose a minimum price which was effectively four per cent below recommended retail price.

The investigation found that staff “were aware of the potential illegality of the online pricing policies and were careful not to communicate their pricing instructions to resellers in writing”.

It added: “Indeed, in some instances, where communications were put in writing, instructions were issued for them to be deleted from the server.”

Poole Lighting, which is based in Cabot Lane, Creekmoor, and has a warehouse in Christchurch, supplies lighting products under the Saxby, Endon and Interiors 1900 brand names and under its own label.

In September 2015, when Poole Lighting merged the pricing policies for Saxby and Endon, its sales director spelled out that sellers “will not be allowed to sell a large portion of our range for less than four per cent below our trade price”.

He said those who did not increase prices within 48 hours of being warned would have their accounts suspended.

He emailed: “This might seem brutal but this is proven to be the best method to protect our business. I have personally spoken to many of the licence holders and they are all in agreement (nothing has been put in writing).”

The CMA applied leniency in its penalty after the company co-operated with the enquiry and “voluntarily, clearly and unequivocally admitted the facts and allegations of infringement”.

NLC said a statement: “NLC accepts the CMA’s findings and acknowledges undertaking certain practices which breached competition law. NLC ceased these practices as soon as the CMA opened its investigation.

“The past practices of NLC were never aimed at harming consumers but merely sought to protect its bricks and mortar customers from the significant damage being done to them by the free riding of certain internet resellers.”

Poole Lighting had a turnover of £47.7m in 2015. NLC – which conducts all its UK business through Poole – had a turnover of £120.8m.