The long-running investigation by the UK Office of Fair Trading (OFT) into alleged anti-competitive practices in the Scottish milk market has finally been completed, with the company at the centre of the allegations - Robert Wiseman Dairies - cleared of any malpractice.
The OFT investigation focused on the sale of fresh processed milk to middle ground retailers (clients other than supermarkets or home-delivery customers) in Scotland.
A number of Scottish firms, including Claymore Dairies, part of the Express Dairies group, had accused Wiseman of fixing prices, but the OFT said that its "thorough and extensive investigation had not provided sufficient evidence to the requisite standard to prove the allegations".
In a statement, the OFT said that "although there are grounds for suspecting an infringement of the Competition Act 1998, further investigation is unlikely to lead to an infringement decision and does not warrant the commitment of further resources". The Competition Act prohibits companies from carrying out any practices which distort competition.
The OFT added that the investigation could be re-opened if substantial further evidence were to come to light.
This is the second OFT investigation into the Scottish milk market to end without a conclusion - in August, the OFT ruled that there was insufficient evidence to substantiate claims that Wiseman had been abusing its dominant position there - and the companies which brought the allegations are unlikely to stop there.
A spokesman for Claymore Dairies said: "We are surprised that the Chapter 1 investigation has been closed at this time. The OFT say that they have received 'several approaches from within the industry' regarding cartel activity and have 'grounds for suspecting an infringement of Chapter 1'.
"For the OFT to close its investigation now is therefore irrational and sends a clear message to cartels that if discipline can be maintained the OFT may not continue to pursue investigations. We will be taking leading counsel's advice regarding any further legal steps which may be required in the light of today's announcement by the OFT."
For its part, Wiseman welcomed the decision. "We have maintained from day one that there was no case to answer and we are obviously delighted to put this matter behind us," said chairman Alan Wiseman.
"It is disappointing that the investigation ever took place and lasted for such a long period, but we never allowed it to distract us from running the business."