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Breathe Networks asks for euthanasia

Email disappears as firm goes titsup

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Exclusive Internet service provider Breathe Networks Ltd (BNL) has applied to be struck off the UK Register of Companies, The Register has learned.

The move comes days after administrators moved into the ISP, which has persisted through various changes of ownership since the dotcom peak.

On Monday the firm, whose current offices are listed in Piccadilly, London, quietly moved its 25,000 customers to another email provider without asking them first. As a result, it's understood that around half of BNL customers lost their address books, archived mail and folders.

Spider Networks Ltd, which provided email services to BNL, wrote to thousands of customers offering them a way to get their information back.

Bristol-based Spider Networks claimed in the message penned on Monday evening that BNL was “in breach of contract”, saying it had not paid its bills. Spider Networks had previously offered to help BNL move its customers to another email provider without disrupting users' data.

El Reg called BNL’s central London office yesterday lunchtime. However, we were told that no one was available to take our call as the office was empty.

We were also told that it wasn’t possible to leave a message or voicemail for anyone at the company, as it was unclear when anyone might return.

This morning we got a similar result when requesting to speak to BNL's CEO Steve Kaye. However, this time we were at least able to leave a message.

According to Companies House records, BNL changed its registered office from a Camberley, Surrey-based location, to a rented space in Piccadilly, London, on 5 May 2009.

On Tuesday, its directors made a Section 652 application to have the company struck off the Companies House Register and dissolved.

Some weeks earlier on 22 April, the company’s director Marcus East resigned from the firm.

Section 652 of the Companies Act 1985 states that the procedure, though not a formal process, can be used “if a company is insolvent and has minimal assets which when realised would not meet the costs of a creditors voluntary liquidation”.

The minimum cost for a creditors' voluntary liquidation in the UK is approximately £4,000.

Under the Act, BNL could still face opposition to its application to be struck off the Register, however.

As of 21 July, creditors have three months to object to the strike-off and could take action to have the BNL placed into compulsory liquidation.

Meanwhile, administrators at The MacDonald Partnership confirmed to us late on Thursday that BNL went into administration on 16 July.

Administrator Neil Chesterton is handling the case. He told The Register that the firm was "in insolvency".

When asked why BNL had applied to be struck off from the Companies Register, Chesteron explained that the firm had planned to do that anyway.

"That was the state of play prior to us being involved. Breathe is now under my control," he said.

He confirmed that the company already had a buyer but declined to comment further on who was set to scoop up the business, or what it meant for customers and creditors of BNL.

"This has happened with a view to ensuring a rescue of the business," he said. "It should be a seamless process."

In related news, trade mag Farmers Weekly reported that BNL customers with farmersweekly.net and fwi.co.uk email accounts were experiencing problems with the service.

It said that Spider Networks, which provided the web platform BNL had been using, was offering fwi.co.uk and farmersweekly.net email account holders the ability to access their old interface.

"If you choose to do this you will have a new email address and will continue to use the Spider Networks solution,” an email from Spider Networks said. “This will allow you to use your new email address as before, access all of your previous emails and address books and participate in our discussion forums."

A spokeswoman at Ofcom told us that any concerned BNL customers should contact the UK media regulator with their complaint.

Breathe was one of the big dotcom names in the UK at the start of the decade to hit the buffers. It had served as a free dial-up ISP before seeing its assets and brand sold to Great Universal Stores in 2001. Six months later it was offloaded to Affinity Internet Holdings.

Two years after that it was flogged to Net Access Limited, which went titsup in 2006. Breathe was then bought by a new company, Breathe Networks Limited.

It had since hung in there hoovering up small broadband ISPs and groups of customers, including some of the fallout from the Biscit debacle in 2007.

In June last year the outfit acquired small ISP Fast4 for an undisclosed sum.

The merger saw Fast4 bosses Kaye and Nick Pulsford become Chief Operating Officer and Chief Technical Officer of BNL. ®

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