Dozens of former employees looted offices of the personal injury claims firm, The Accident Group, after being told by text message that they had lost their jobs.
About 2,500 staff were thrown out of work on Friday when their employers’ parent company, the Amulet Group, went into receivership.
Offices in Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool were ransacked by staff, who carried off computers and other equipment.
Staff had received three text messages on their mobile phones, warning them that they should not go into work, that their final salaries could not be paid and that a full explanation would be given by e-mail.
At offices, an answer machine message from the administrators, PricewaterhouseCoopers, said: “All staff who are being retained will be contacted today. If you have not been spoken to you are therefore being made redundant with immediate effect.”
It added: “Unfortunately, there are no funds available to pay the salaries for May.”
The message apologised for the nature of the call, adding: “I would have preferred to do this on a face-to-face basis. On the time scale available, this has not proved possible.”
Staff were told to make claims to the Department of Trade and Industry for arrears of pay, outstanding holiday pay, pay in lieu of notice and redundancy.
Andy Potton, a claims assessor with the firm, had gone to his office in Speke, Liverpool, because he assumed colleagues would gather there.
He said: “I could hardly believe what I saw. There were people walking out of the office with computers. One chap quite high up in the company had loaded up his car with laptops and driven off.”