In fact, this company did not go bust. Its director manipulated it so that it was not in its creditors' best interests to try to sue it. It is an all too common ploy which is morally reprehensible but which is for all practical purposes too easy for certain people to get away with legally.
The director of this company, whom I shall call Peter Smith, contacted me in response to an open letter I wrote which was printed in Computer Weekly. He asked if I could do some software development for him. It was for a PC + Psion organiser system for gathering and uploading news sales data from news retailers to a wholesaler's HP3000 minicomputer.
I began the work. At the end of the first month I invoiced him for the work I had done. He sent my invoice back saying that I would have to re-do the invoice making it out to his company, which I shall call News Technology Limited. "Didn't I mention that?", he said. No, he did not. Had he done so I would have checked out his company first via my Mercury Link 7500 email connection which I had at the time. Anyway, I did not know anything about the finer points of company law: I just wanted to get on with the job. I therefore made out a new invoice as he requested. After some considerable time this was paid.
I continued with the work. At the end of the next month I submitted another invoice. Again, after considerable time, a cheque arrived. It bounced. He told me to re-present it. It was cleared. I continued work for two more months also incurring costs other than my hours to obtain modems and other items to be used on the project. I presented my invoices but they were never paid. I eventually involved a solicitor, but Peter Smith wrote back to me saying that he could not pay. On investigating his company I found it to be worthless.
I contacted the news wholesale company for whom he was providing the system. They said that they had paid News Technology Limited for the whole project, most of the payments being in advance at Peter Smith's request because he needed to purchase the necessary equipment. It seems that somehow all the money News Technology had received had somehow already disappeared out of it. If I were to sue it, I was told, then I would get nothing and be saddled with all the legal and court costs. We ended up very poor that year.
My father was incensed by the whole thing and commissioned some solicitors to submit Peter Smith to an Oral Examination. He had a good permanent job as a computer salesman. His daughter attended private school. He had an expensive and well-appointed house in the New Forest. He also apparently had a whole string of companies like News Technology Limited — empty shells which their creditors could not sensibly sue. A clear case of a rich entrepreneur devolving his business risks onto an unsuspecting worker of modest means.
I think the real culprit in this obvious injustice is a society which holds and perpetuates a system of law which allows such reprehensible business practices to flourish. There may be laws against what Peter Smith did. However, finding out if they exist, and then enforcing them is way beyond the means of a lone individual like myself.
The above is just one case of many.