SOMETIMES, AMONG the invitations to interview companies we've never heard of, and messages asking us why we haven't answered the phone/the last email/the word of the Lord, something mysterious or interesting arrives.
Such was the case yesterday when, just before lunch, we received this tantalising piece.
"Former directors from Retro Computers Ltd distance themselves from [the] company they founded."
Well, as you can imagine, we love a tasty bit of industry goss. We discovered that Paul Andrews and Chris Smith, the founders of the company that brought us the ZX Spectrum Vega, one of two recreations of the seminal 1980s home computer the ZX Spectrum that were in high demand last Christmas, actually left the company in April.
So why were they telling us now? Apparently, it is because they had been repeatedly asked about the timescales and progress of the forthcoming Spectrum Vega+ and had not received the information they needed to give an informed answer.
The statement said: "As a result of enquiries received and their concern for the backers of the project, several weeks ago Smith and Andrews (via their solicitors) posed multiple questions to the current directors of Retro Computers Ltd (through their solicitors), including as to the status of the proposed Vega+ project (preparation, software, production, time scales, etc) and the financial resources of the company to meet the expected costs of development and production, and so on.
"Sadly Retro Computers Ltd has failed to respond at all to these requests (or indeed to earlier similar requests) and have not provided any information or answers to Andrews and Smith.
"Andrews and Smith therefore feel they have no choice but to publicly distance themselves from Retro Computers Ltd, and make it very clear that, as they have no knowledge, control or say in anything that has happened in the company since they resigned on 8th of April 2016, they are unable to answer any questions relating to the company or its projects."
Uh ... OK guys, we'll bite. Why the big cock-a-hoop? So, we dutifully contacted the team at Retro, with which we've always got on rather well.
As it turned out, at the time of our inquiry, Retro had no knowledge of the statement from their founders, who, we should add, still own 50 per cent of the company. We forwarded it.
What happened next knocked our little 8-bit socks off. But we shall come to that shortly. Before that, an aside demonstrated just how messy the world of crowdfunding can get, and the world of ZX Spectrum remakes particularly.
We thought it would be interesting to get a counterpoint from Steve Wilcox, founder of Elite Systems, responsible for the full-sized Recreated ZX Spectrum which, according to the company, outsold the Vega five to one.
Again, we get on quite well with Steve, and were a little surprised when he said: "With regard to the recreated device, as lawyers have been instructed we have no comment at this time."
We might add that pleasantries were exchanged too - as we say, we get on quite well - but that statement jarred as being a bit pre-prepared. It was only then that we found an article from Eurogamer reporting that many crowd funders were claiming never to have received their machines because of manufacturing problems, coupled with the fact that, although stockists still have machines, Elite doesn't have any of its own.
Now, having spent time with Steve we know he is a passionate, dedicated man whom we certainly believe is on the level, but it's not surprising that he didn't want to engage with us about a story on the Vega.
So, to Retro Computing's response. It was a little, shall we say, pointed.
Dr David Levy, chairman of Retro Computers Limited, made a number of important opening remarks, so you'll forgive us if we quote him a lot. We promise it's worth it.
"The most important thing I would like to say is that the current team at Retro Computers Ltd has been and is focusing its efforts on the completion of new and better software for its forthcoming product, the Vega+, and is making every effort, supported by the factory, to deliver the first production run of the Vega+ by the end of next month, as originally planned," he said.
Good news for backers, although we had no doubt that Retro would deliver. With Sir Clive himself backing the project and 367 per cent funding on Indiegogo, this is something very special.
Dr Levy continued: "I would not normally comment on such matters but, given that this is the third factually inaccurate statement being released to media by Paul Andrews and Chris Smith and/or their associates purporting to distance themselves from the Vega project(s), we seek to clarify the misinformation and we are grateful for our right to reply."
But now we get to the juicy bit. The release we responded to appears to be the latest chapter in a long-running feud.
"Following advice from our legal and financial advisors we can also confirm that the current management at Retro Computers Limited have issued legal proceedings to recover company funds that are unaccounted for whilst the company was under the sole financial management of Paul Andrews, as managing director and Chris Smith, as CTO. This matter has been in the hands of our solicitors for some time," Dr Levy said.
Now, remember that in the original press release, Andrews and Smith had accused Retro of not providing them with information about the Vega project.
Dr Levy, on the other hand, said: "Shortly after their resignations the new management team of Retro Computers Limited asked Mr Andrews and Mr Smith to explain a number of financial transactions which took place while Andrews was managing director of the company. Mr Andrews and Mr Smith have both refused to provide any of this information."
Dr Levy goes on to explain that these financial issues are sub judice and as such won't be commented on further.
But what caused Andrews and Smith to fall out with the company they created? The answer lies in another project with which regular INQUIRER readers will be familiar.
Dr Levy explained: "On April 8th 2016 two of the shareholders/directors of the company, Paul Andrews and Chris Smith, resigned as directors. Their resignation followed the revelation that they intended to attempt to raise money for the development and manufacture of a rival product, namely a retro version of the Commodore 64 computer, The64.
"I perceived their intentions as putting them in a conflict of interest situation, contrary to Section 25 of the Companies Act 2006.
"The 64 Project, which failed to reach its crowdfunding target, is allegedly being produced by an almost identically named company, Retro Games Limited, a company incorporated on 16th August, 2015 by Paul Andrews as its sole director and of which Smith and Andrews are jointly 50 per cent shareholders. At the time of its incorporation, and for some eight months thereafter, its address and phone number were identical to Retro Computers Limited."
In other words, Retro has accused the pair of setting up a new company for the C64 remake, using Retro's resources. Blimey. Certainly, at the time we reported The64, we had no idea we were dealing with the same people.
We've asked Andrews and Smith for their comments on this and will let you know how they respond.
But Dr Levy also accuses them of trying to derail the Vega project. "Since their resignation, and despite the fact that each of them remains a 25 per cent shareholder in Retro Computers Ltd, Andrews and Smith have acted in various ways that can perhaps be best described as a campaign of non-co-operation and attempted destabilisation of the company," he said.
"This campaign includes the failure to hand over to the company and its new management team various important legally required company records and documents and technical information that are needed for smooth company operation."
So, we're now caught in the middle of a cat fight for a company. As journalists, we love this sort of thing, and the addition of the C64 element just makes it pure soap opera.
So what happens now? We're as excited as you are to find out. We should just add, however, that we're not taking sides, and we should emphasise that we have every belief that Retro Computers is going to deliver what could be one of the must-have gadgets this Christmas.
But sometimes, as a journalist, when you go looking under rocks, even the ones thrown straight at you, it's amazing what you find.
And, in fact, shortly after we went to press, Andrews and Smith released a follow-up statement entitled 'A Request for Openness from the Directors'.
This refers to a number of "factual inaccuracies" in the statement from Retro Computing which they believed served to "deflect focus from our key message".
The statement continued: "Prior to the completion of the campaign, we resigned our directorships due to irreconcilable differences between us and David Levy. After we left, the Indiegogo campaign raised over £400,000, funds, of course, to which we have had no access.
"As we were still shareholders in the company we were keen to see how these funds were being spent by David Levy and the new directors. However, despite posing key questions to them (both directly and through legal teams) no relevant information was forthcoming."
Of course, this whole tale is complicated by the fact that Andrews and Smith, despite resigning, still have a financial interest in the company.
They go on to cite other concerns: "Our experience in the retail and manufacturing field has taught us that a product such as the Vega+ would normally take around 18 weeks to manufacture, and therefore with the promised delivery date just six weeks away, we find it incredible that Retro Computers could not show us or the backers one single photograph of a production-spec model, nor could they confirm the full list of games to be included with the console.
"It is these simple concerns regarding the manufacturing timescale that led us to issue our recent statement."
The pair said that legal proceedings currently in place are with the distributor or the original Vega, a company called Cornerstone Media International.
Then (if you're still following all this) the story between the two parties takes a complete fork.
"We feel it necessary to clarify that there are no legal proceedings whatsoever instigated against ourselves - Chris Smith and Paul Andrews - at the current time, and we do not understand why there would ever be any," said the statement.
"We are, of course, prepared to take any action necessary against any libellous statements made in any form that suggest otherwise."
This, of course, is direct contradiction of the statement from Retro which said that it has taken legal action against the pair.
The statement went on: "We believe that backers are not interested in behind-the-scene management arguments, changes of directors and distraction tactics; they (and us) simply want to ensure their money is safe."
The pair then requested that Retro come back with evidence of what is going on.
"Our suggestions for this reassurance include photographs of the final moulds, a pre-production sample, a full games list or a video of a fully working prototype to prove that the project is on track and ready for the mid-September delivery," said the statement.
"We are simply asking for evidence that should be available today rather than a promise of confirmation at a vague point in the future, as previous official updates seem to have suggested."
The statement finishes by assuring backers that their prime concern is that customers get the console and are happy with the end result.
Now, before INQ could get on the blower to Retro to respond, the firm came to us with another statement from Dr Levy.
"The press release issued today by Paul Andrews and Chris Smith, relating to Retro Computers Ltd, is the fourth in a series of highly misleading and repetitive statements made by the pair," the company said.
"I stand by my statement of yesterday, in which I explain my belief that their actions are intended to frustrate and destabilise this company in order to make it difficult for the company to take the appropriate legal action in relation to financial irregularities which occurred while Mr Andrews was managing director of the company.
"If, as they claim, Mr Andrews and Mr Smith really wanted Retro Computers Ltd to produce the Vega+ and deliver it to our backers on schedule next month, they would not have deliberately failed and refused to deliver up to the company all of the corporate documents and technical data etc in their possession, as Mr Andrews promised to do in an email which he sent to me on April 11th."
We're not going to republish a copy of a memo in a press release that responds to three earlier press releases. It's exhausting, but it recounts the agreed handover process after the former directors resigned.
The statement goes on: "In fact, and despite our repeated requests, Mr Andrews failed to provide, inter alia, much of the essential corporate documentation and removed the content of the company’s web site, and Mr Smith failed to provide anything at all in respect of 'the tech part of the company'. Had they done so the company would have been saved several tens of thousands of pounds and a huge amount of work.
"Mr Andrews and Mr Smith paint themselves as white knights striving to support the wishes of the thousands of backers who will be receiving their Vega+. In fact the opposite is true - they have consistently acted in ways aimed at damaging this company and its efforts. They ought to be thoroughly ashamed of themselves."
Look, we're going to keep reporting this because it's fascinating, but at the same time, how much more of this dirty laundry is going to get aired, and why is it happening? There's a missing piece of the puzzle here.
And while we're on the subject, are you as gripped by it all as we are? It's like Mr Robot with crap graphics.
All we can do is reemphasise that Retro Computing Ltd "is making every effort, supported by the factory, to deliver the first production run of the Vega+ by the end of next month, as originally planned".
This affirmation was given to us again just before we published this update.
Nothing to see here. µ
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