Laing workers reacted with sadness and disbelief as the full extent of the huge construction losses emerged last week.
"It's unbelievable, and we are all aghast at the losses. We knew it was bad but never dreamed it was this bad. We can't understand where the losses came from," said one Laing construction employee at the business' Hemel Hempstead headquarters hours after the news was announced last Thursday. "Nobody in the office can quite believe it."

Figures revealed in the sale of the construction arm to Ray O'Rourke showed that losses at the division since 1997 added up to nearly £200m, largely because of costly mistakes in large contracts.

Another worker said she was disgusted with the whole thing. She said: "But we don't blame the Laing family. There is a tremendous sadness, more than anything, that it had to end like this and tarnish the Laing name. It's just a sorry, sorry day for everyone involved with Laing."

Staff said some were nervous about the new regime under O'Rourke and what his plans would mean for the staff (see opposite page).

Looks to me as if O’Rourke has got a pretty good deal

Ex-Laing employee Mike Jeffries, chairman, WS Atkins

"We're not sure what it means for us yet. We're waiting to see but it would be fair to say there is some nervousness," admitted one employee.

Staff sources also said some colleagues had left the firm as sale negotiations dragged on. It is unclear if more employees will leave when the deal is finalised at the end of the month.

One former Laing worker said some might welcome O'Rourke's arrival. He said: "There may well be people who want Ray O'Rourke to succeed, to turn Laing back in to a business that can recover its former reputation."

The affair represents a sad end for Laing, but it has been coming for a while

Ex-Laing employee Oliver Whitehead, chief executive, Alfred McAlpine

Rivals and the City were critical of the Laing board's handling of the affair. Many could not believe that Sir Martin Laing had not quit immediately, or that he intended to stay on as a non-executive director.

One analyst said: "That he is still there and intends to be there after all this is rather odd. What's he going to do? Wander around the corridors like a ghost?"

Laing sale