Two of the UK’s most prolific ticket touts have been found guilty of fraud at the conclusion of a criminal case that could set some interesting precedents regarding what British law says about the unofficial resale of tickets for profit online.
The case was pursued by National Trading Standards, which began investigating various industrial-level ticket touting operations after the UK government’s 2016 Waterson Report declared that consumer rights law needed to be better enforced in the secondary ticketing domain.
The defendants were Peter Hunter and David Smith, who operated as Ticket Wiz and BZZ, and who were dubbed as “dishonest fraudsters motivated by greed” when the case against them arrived in Leeds Crown Court last year. That the two men ran a prolific ticket touting operation was not disputed, the question was whether their operations broke any laws.
Yesterday the jury concluded “fuck, yeah”, with both men being found guilty of fraudulent trading and possessing an article for fraud. Earlier in the case, the prosecution explained how, through Ticket Wiz and BZZ, the defendants used bespoke software and a specialist browser to hoover up tickets from primary ticketing sites, using multiple identities and credit cards to circumvent rules that limit how many tickets any one person can buy.
They were also accused of failing to warn buyers that touted tickets might be cancelled by a promoter, and of speculatively selling tickets they hadn’t actually acquired yet.
Quite what wider impact yesterday’s ruling has on other industrial-level touting operations – and the websites they used to sell their tickets – remains to be seen. Whereas National Trading Standards has gone after the actual touts, the Competition & Markets Authority has taken the lead in scrutinising the operations of the resale sites, which these days mainly means the soon-to-merge Viagogo and StubHub.
Yesterday’s ruling was welcomed by those who have campaigned against online ticket touting, including the FanFair Alliance and MP Sharon Hodgson.
Adam Webb from the former said: “Today’s verdict shines further light on the murky world of secondary ticketing, and the dependency of websites such as Viagogo and StubHub upon large-scale commercial ticket resellers. We strongly suspect Peter Hunter and David Smith are not exceptional, and that other suppliers to these sites may also acquire tickets by unlawful means – no questions asked”.
“Given the outcome of this case”, he went on, “it is now urgent that National Trading Standards are resourced to increase the scope of their investigations, and for the Competition & Markets Authority to apply further scrutiny towards the secondary ticketing market overall. If the likes of Viagogo, StubHub and other secondary sites operate without due diligence then their directors must be held to account”.
Meanwhile Hodgson, who has long campaigned on this issue, added: “This hugely significant verdict is vindication of the years of campaigning by people who have been ripped off by ticket touts, often with devastating personal consequences. As someone who has been fighting against some of the worst offenders in the secondary ticketing market for years now, I hope that this verdict sets a clear precedent moving forward”.
“I have been calling for the National Trading Standards to be resourced sufficiently in order to increase the scope of their investigations, and for the Competition & Markets Authority to apply further scrutiny towards the secondary ticketing market overall”, she continues. “For far too long, people motivated by greed have been abusing the goodwill and desperation of genuine fans, and that must end”.