How Companies House destroyed a family business with a single typo

Emma Haslett
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The High Court heard that all 3,000 of Taylor and Sons' suppliers terminated their contracts within weeks (Source: Getty)

If you're having a bad morning, spare a thought for the owners of Taylor and Sons, a 124 year-old Cardiff-based military equipment supplier which was pushed into administration - after a typo made by Companies House.

A High Court judge has ruled that the government body must pay out £8.8m to the owners of the company, after it mistakenly listed it in February 2009 as having been "wound up" - when in fact, it was Taylor and Son (with a crucial missing "s"), which had gone bust.

The outcome, said the claimants, was that when Taylor and Sons' customers and suppliers checked its records, they were put off doing business with it. In fact, Philip Davison-Sebry, the company's former managing director, said that despite its attempts to reassure them, within three weeks all 3,000 of its suppliers had terminated their orders, while credit facilities were withdrawn.

And while the typo was fixed within three days, "word had got around" and customers - including Tata Steel, with whom it had a £400,000-a-month deal - cancelled their contracts.

Davison-Sebry added that one client had called him while he was on holiday.

"They said they weren't happy at all I was on holiday, asking how could I be on holiday at a time like this?"

Mr Justice Edis concluded there was no reason the company should have gone into administration, apart from the mistake by Companies House, and that the "assumption of responsibility" was therefore on the government body.

"Balancing the harm actually done to the company in this case against the potential adverse impact upon Companies House it is clear that the balance favours the loss falling on Companies House rather than the company.

'To say that it was also owed to every other company on the register is only to say that a hospital owes a duty to each patient which it treats, and may come to owe duties to many thousands of people in the course of a year. That is of course true, but not a reason for denying that the hospital ever owes any duty."

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