HUNDREDS of staff at one of the city’s biggest employers reacted with shock and tears on Tuesday after learning they would have no job to return to the following day.

The 350 employees at Palmer & Harvey’s headquarters in Hove had gone in that day expecting business as usual but were told at around 4pm to pack their things and leave the Davigdor Road office for the last time.

Some had been discussing plans for the Christmas party just that lunchtime.

Negotiations to rescue the failing wholesale business fell through late on Monday and administrator PWC arranged simultaneous briefings at the firm’s locations nationwide, so staff had to wait to have it confirmed they had lost their jobs with immediate effect.

Angela Lewis from Hove told The Argus: “I’ve been there ten years and now I’ve been made redundant overnight.

“It’s not a good time of year for it. It had been on the cards but it was still a shock”

Staff received their November pay packet yesterday, but any redundancy pay may take some time to come through while the administrator deals with the firm’s creditors.

Another former employee said she had learned the news by text. She said: “We were discussing the Christmas party and then my dad told me the company had gone into administration.”

IT specialist Peter Fitzpatrick said: “It was horrible, people were in tears. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

“There are people who have worked there for 30 years plus. My heart just breaks for them.”

Mr Fitzpatrick is employed by a third-party contractor so his job is secure but he and his wife will have to move home to Tamworth after nearly four years living in Hove working at P&H.

He explained: “People were scurrying around because they’d seen it on the news.

“Then around 4pm there was an announcement and everybody was told, ‘you’re gone’.

When The Argus visited Palmer & Hervey’s usually bustling offices in Hove yesterday the building was almost deserted.

A slow stream of shocked former employees returning to collect belongings found the front door locked and had to negotiate with security staff to gain access.

Inside, empty desks in unmanned offices were strewn with unfinished work, left when staff simply walked out of the building on Tuesday.

A handful of staff were still at work having been have been asked to stay on for a short period to manage the winding up of the company.

Our request to speak to anyone who was managing the administration process was refused.

A spokesman for administrator PWC said that a “significant number of redundancies” had been made at each of the businesses locations.

Palmer & Harvey McLane Limited was the UK’s largest delivered wholesaler to the UK convenience market and the country’s largest tobacco distributor. It employed 3,400 people nationally.

The group folded after a cashflow crisis.