Hogan Lovells successfully defends Vodafone in Phones 4u litigation

Hogan Lovells successfully defends Vodafone in Phones 4u litigation

Press releases | 10 November 2023

London, 10 November 2023 - Hogan Lovells today secured a major victory for clients Vodafone Group and Vodafone UK in the long-running Phones 4u competition law litigation. 

In a judgment handed down on 10 November 2023 in the High Court in London, Mr Justice Roth dismissed Phones 4u’s claims that Vodafone had colluded with other telecoms companies to withdraw business from Phones 4u and thereby caused the retail chain’s collapse back in 2014. Following a major litigation process spanning a number of years and culminating in a 35 day trial with nearly 40 factual witnesses, the Court has found that none of the Defendants was in breach of either UK or EU competition law in the way that Phones 4u had alleged. 

The Phones 4u retail chain collapsed into administration in 2014. Its administrators brought the claim alleging that the decisions to withdraw from Phones 4u by each of O2, Vodafone UK and EE were taken following collusion between those entities or their respective parent companies (then Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefonica and Vodafone). Each of the telecoms companies denied those allegations - in Vodafone’s case, vigorously denying the allegations of collusion, and arguing strongly that its decision to withdraw from Phones 4u followed a robust and wholly independent commercial analysis.

The Court’s judgment upholds Vodafone’s position on these key issues, the Judge having conducted a very detailed analysis of Vodafone’s decision making process and the various commercial factors which weighed in its decision. Considering one of Vodafone’s contemporaneous decision-making documents which reflected uncertainty as to what steps EE might take, the Judge described this as “the very antithesis of the alleged collusion with EE”. Noting the commercial context that Phones 4u’s major competitor, Carphone Warehouse, had merged with retail chain Dixons around the time of these events, the Court also noted that “those running P4u significantly underestimated the impact which the news of the merger had” on the perceptions of the telecoms companies when they were deciding on their commercial retailing strategies.

The Hogan Lovells team was led by John Tillman (Partner) and Angus Coulter (Partner), with Alice Wallace-Wright (Partner), Victoria Lindsay (Counsel), Rebecca Hing (Senior Associate), Jamie Pollock (Senior Associate), Thomas Evans (Associate), Juliette Parkinson (Associate), Maeve Rowley-O’Donnell (Associate) and Millie Scott (Associate). 

Angus Coulter, Partner in the Competition Team at Hogan Lovells commented: “The case is one of the largest standalone competition damages cases ever brought before an English Court, and involved complex and challenging issues of both fact and law. The judgment demonstrates the careful approach which the English Court will take when scrutinising such allegations, and contains many points of relevance to companies seeking to navigate the complexities of what are often necessary dealings with competitors in their industry. We are very pleased to have been able to work with Vodafone in its successful defence of these allegations.”

Notes for editors:

1. Hogan Lovells is the premier litigation firm in the London market, consistently ranked in Band 1 for Commercial Litigation with Chambers UK and Legal 500.

2. A global litigation powerhouse with more than 800 litigation lawyers in over 45 offices worldwide advising on the full spectrum from risk analysis to crisis management, and from representation in a single court to advice in multijurisdictional cross-border disputes.

Hogan Lovells advises on some of the most high-profile and significant competition litigation matters covering the full range of contentious competition issues across many markets and industry sectors, raising cutting edge issues.

3. Throughout the case the Hogan Lovells team worked closely with the in-house legal team at Vodafone led by Nick Vidovich (Group Director of Litigation), with Nick Woodrow (Group Legal Director (Competition, Trade, Financial Crime)), Duncan Martin (UK Lead Counsel), Katie Vernon (Group Senior Counsel) and Andrew Yorston (UK General Counsel).  

4. Other parties were represented by Clifford Chance, Covington & Burling, Linklaters, Mishcon, Norton Rose Fulbright and Quinn Emanuel.