CYBER detectives who became the first to tackle online traders over illegal secondary ticket sales have been criticised as an appeal judge dismissed their fines over procedural failures.

The failure of the National Trading Standards e-Crime team, hosted by North Yorkshire County Council at County Hall in Northallerton, to enforce the Consumer Rights Act 2015 has been greeted with disappointment.

The fines followed mounting concerns over online resale of tickets to sporting, recreational and cultural events and the information consumers receive during such sales, with cases such as World Cup tickets being marketed on secondary ticketing sites for up to £11,300.

Consumer rights group Which? and campaign groups have stated the secondary ticketing online platforms are routinely failing to comply with the legislation.

Last year, the council authorised the team to launch enforcement action against online platforms for individual breaches of the legislation, which made it illegal for operators of secondary ticketing websites to sell tickets without providing details about the original face value of the ticket, the seat the ticket is for and restrictions on the use of the ticket.

The e-Crime team received £135,000 from National Trading Standards for the last financial year to undertake secondary ticketing enforcement work.

In the first test of the legislation, the team served maximum £5,000 penalties on Worldwide Tickets Ltd, Black Sync Ltd, Gary Harvey and Alan Gambin following test purchases in August 2017 by an officer of the Competition and Markets Authority.

A tribunal appeal hearing was told while all four online sellers accepted they had breached the secondary ticketing rules in one way or another, they all challenged the imposition of the financial penalties on procedural fairness grounds and said the financial penalties imposed on them were too high.

Judge Alison McKenna heard the sellers were not told they would be fined until August 2018, a year after the test purchases, which was six months out of time for a prosecution.

Leading barrister Ben Douglas-Jones QC, whose previous cases include securing Colin Stagg £706,000 compensation over his wrongful indictment for the murder of Rachel Nickell, told the appeal evidence supplied by the trading standards team was “woefully unedifying”.

He described one officer as having affected a “Nelsonian blindness” in relation to the free-flow of information between Competition and Marketing Authority and County Hall.

Judge McKenna concluded all four appeals should be allowed as the trading standards officers had had sufficient evidence to launch the enforcement action earlier.

She said: “It is of course unpalatable to allow appeals to succeed in circumstances where the appellants admit that they breached the relevant statutory provisions.

“Nevertheless, Parliament clearly intended for there to be a time limit of six months only between an enforcement authority having sufficient evidence of a breach and the service of the notice of intent in respect of that breach.”

She added while trading standards officers had decided to impose the maximum possible financial penalty on each of the sellers, due to their previous history of re-selling, “North Yorkshire County Council’s approach to setting the penalty level therefore appears to me to have been procedurally unfair”.

A spokesperson for National Trading Standards said:  “There were a number of elements of the secondary ticketing measures set out in the Consumer Rights Act 2015 that needed to be tested in court.

“While we are naturally disappointed with the outcome, this judgment represents the first practical test of these measures and we will now carefully review the detail of the judgment.”

While the costs of the appeal awarded against trading standards are yet to be confirmed, no costs will be incurred by North Yorkshire County Council as the work was funded by National Trading Standards.