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At stake is not just the fate of the urns but the fundamental terms of business by which auctioneers protect themselves from claims by dissatisfied buyers and sellers.

The gilded urns are either 18th century originals and worth every penny of their sale price – as argued by Christie’s, or 19th century copies worth far less – Miss Thomson’s claim. Each party has launched a raft of other claims and counter claims, but at the heart of the dispute is whether Christie’s can turn away Miss Thomson’s demand for a refund on the basis of the terms of business set out in their catalogue. These place limits on their liabilities, stating that catalogue descriptions are merely an expression of opinion and that buyers bid at their own risk. Miss Thomson argues that these terms are unfair. Her counsel has also begun to set out a case in which she argues that, under the circumstances in which Christie’s promoted the urns to her, they owed her a greater duty of care as a client than the terms and conditions offered.

The case is expected to take three weeks, although it is not clear when the judge will give his ruling.