If ever there was a story that demonstrates the value of proofreading, this is it.

Here is the tale of how the accidental omission of a single letter – a typo – ruined a 124-year-old company and cost the UK government a potential $13 million.

So, the value of proofreading? In this case, about $13 million plus 250 jobs.

The Telegraph (via News.com.au) reports that Taylor & Sons Ltd., a Welsh engineering firm established in 1875, was surprised in February 2009 to find itself listed by Companies House, the UK government’s registrar of companies, as having gone bankrupt. They were surprised because they had not, in fact, gone bankrupt. Another company called Taylor & Son, with no “s” – as in only one son as opposed to two or more – had gone bust. It was just a little mistake, and it was caught and corrected within three days, according to the UK Telegraph. Unfortunately, it was too late.

“They [Companies House] had already sold the false information to the credit reference agencies,” Philip Davison-Sebry, former managing director and co-owner of Taylor & Sons Ltd, told the Telegraph, “We lost all our credibility as all our suppliers thought we were in liquidation. It was like a snowball effect.”

He went on, “I was on holiday in the Maldives when I got a message to urgently contact Corus, one of our major clients. They said they weren’t happy at all I was on holiday, asking how could I be on holiday at a time like this?

“They said we were in liquidation and that the credit agencies had told them. I rang the office to find out what was going on – it was like Armageddon. This was all on the day of my wife’s 50th birthday. We will never forget it.”

Within three weeks, all of the company’s 3000 suppliers had cancelled orders. At the time of the typo, Taylor & Sons employed 250 people. Two months later the company was ruined.

A lawsuit followed and the Telegraph reports that a High Court ruling has now found Companies House liable for the collapse of Taylor & Sons. The cost of the “s” has yet to be set but Davison-Sebry’s lawyers have valued his claim at £8.8 million or just over $13 million.

The moral of the story: proofread*.

*There will be at least one typo or error in this story as it is the law of the universe that whenever one writes about writing, typos, grammar, etc. one will make at least one mistake so that readers can point to it as though it is the irony of the century. I just hope it doesn’t cost me $13 million.

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