Tag Archives: Brewers

Durham Cathedral Staff Tribunal Starts

Our thanks to Valiant For Truth for bringing to our attention that in The Journal Newspaper yesterday there was an article of great import to those who frequent this site,

Durham Cathedral Bookshop Staff Launch Legal Fight

This in many ways marks the official start of Durham Staff in their fight for Justice against the Brewer Brothers and their tactics of playing fast and loose with employment law and the rights of workers to be treated fairly and dismissed in a right way.

However Durham Cathedral itself via their trading arm are also in the dock as it were, again something that may not come as any great surprise to readers of this blog who have at times been dismayed, upset and hurt by some of the Cathedrals inactions and actions throughout the saga.

The article begins by saying:

CATHEDRAL bosses could become embroiled in a complex legal fight after bookshop staff launched tribunal proceedings.

Six workers at Durham Cathedral’s bookshop are seeking compensation after their employment was allegedly terminated when the shop unexpectedly closed on January 22 this year.

But confusion has arisen over who is potentially liable for any payouts and proceedings have been listed against several different companies, including the cathedral’s trading arm, Durham Cathedral Trading Ltd.

The article then goes on to say:

Miss Jeram, representing the Trust, (inserted clarification for blog readers – that’s SSGCT) said: “There are a number of uncertainties. There has been a great deal of confusion right from the beginning over their employer.

“The only issues can be who the employer was immediately prior to the closing of the bookshop and who the employer was at any time after that, in the period between January 22 and March 1.

“We’ve got to consider whether the claims should be struck out against the first respondent. At some point after June 2007 and before July 2008 it is my understanding that the Brewers attempted to wind up SSG LLC in Houston. After that time their employer could not have been SSG so it would have become the Durham Cathedral Shop Management Company.”

Claims against employers involve redundancy pay, unfair dismissal, breach of contract and unpaid work.

Sara Brody, representing the staff on behalf of shop workers union Usdaw at the hearing, argued the Trust should remain on the list of potential employers.

She said: “The claimants believe the Trust was their employer throughout, so their primary claim is against the Trust.”

Last year Durham cathedral bosses served SSG notice to vacate the shop, the last in the UK to be involved with the Trust, by May of this year.

Again these issues as raised are nothing new to anyone aquainted with this situation, previous tribunal actions and this blog.

So again we would ask that anyone who has any information, paperwork or correspondence of any sort that could help USDAW and the Durham staff to clear up the issue of employers please do get in touch with them directly.  Anything that demonstrates who people believed they were doing business with or indeed were doing business with during the time frames mentioned can all help in proving who the employers were and give credence to the staffs perception of employer, so please do get in touch with USDAW and offer your help to them in making sure justice is again done.

As always our thoughts are with those involved in this action and we hope for a swift and just outcome for the Staff at Durham.

Chichester: The Door is Shut. Only Durham remains.

Matt Wardman writes:

These are two photos cross-posted from the ASingleBlog site. The former-SPCK Bookshop in Chichester has been closed on the instructions of the Charity Commission.

This is sad, and yet it means that – exactly as per the takeover of the SPCK-SSG charity by the Charity Commission Interim Manager – those trying to resolve this are now dealing with people of integrity, so we can at least say that Chichester is now on the way out of the swamp.

So the Brewer cash-generating, personal-expenditure subsidising, money-grubbing, supplier-swindling, staff-bullying, legality-avoiding (e.g., lack of required liability insurance), asset-stripping, and Durham Cathedral brand-poisoning, activities can now only be carried on in the Durham Cathedral Bookshop.

Every day that the Brewer-boys retain control of that shop provides a further opportunity for abuse.

Will someone in authority please finish the job?

Here are the Chichester Photos:

20090901-spck-chichester-door-and-notice1

20090901-spck-chichester-door-and-notice2


Is this the ‘Best Use of New Media in a Christian Campaign’?

David Keen writes:

The ‘Bloggies’ – Christian Web and New Media awards – are now open for nominations. I’ve taken the liberty of nominating this blog for ‘Best Use of New Media in a Christian Campaign’.

Phil’s blog is very much the hub of the SPCK campaign, but there’s much more going on. Many of us who are involved have never met face to face, but through blogs, email, Facebook, online petitions, Google Groups, and even Twitter we’ve built a network of supporters from several countries, and in the last 2 weeks there has been a mini-avalanche of remarkable results from the pressure that the campaign has brought to bear:

  • Durham Cathedral have served notice on the Brewers to leave the premises
  • The Charity Commissioners have taken control of the assets of the Society of St. Stephen the Great.
  • Following the CC action, an out of court settlement with unfairly dismissed staff may now be possible
  • and Dave Walker is back to blogging about the SPCK story. Mark Brewers initial ICBM (inter-continental bullying manoevre) seems to have backfired spectacularly in the intervening 10 months. Welcome back Dave.

I have a slight quibble about the Bloggies, in that anyone using new media effectively will, hopefully, be using more than one website to do it. The online SPCK campaign – which effectively began as Dave Walker’s ‘Save the SPCK’ campaign on The Cartoon Blog – has diversified into several ‘new media’ as it has evolved. Any campaign simply using one platform probably shouldn’t get past first base!

If you’d like to nominate the SPCK/SSG campaign too, please do! Here’s what I put in the ‘additional information’ box:

A campaign to scrutinise and hold to account the new owners of SPCK bookshops, which recently resulted in decisive action by both the Charity Commissioners and Durham Cathedral. The campaign provides a discussion space, as well as a focus for scrutiny and lobbying.      

Use of new media includes

- Several blogs, of which the named blog is the key one. With the censorship of Dave Walkers blog, it’s been important to have several blogs reporting the story, so that ‘divide and rule’ through legal threats won’t work.  The reposting on over 70 blogs of material which the new SPCK owners attempted to censor was vital both in building a public profile, and in demonstrating support for those victimised by the new owners.
– Online petitions
– Facebook: there are two related groups on Facebook, which give the campaign an online mailing list of around 600 people, as well as a forum for spreading information.
– Google groups, as a forum for the leaders of the campaign to communicate and share information.
– more recently, Twitter.

Many of those involved in the campaign haven’t met face to face, but new media has enabled us to network, co-ordinate our efforts, and spread information to a wide group of people.

David Keen blogs at St. Aidan to Abbey Manor, and has just joined the team on SPCK/SSG News, Notes and Info.

Fun on the Buses: Slogan Competition

Phil Groom writes:

It’s amazing what you see on the roads in London these days:

There probably won't be any bookshops - there certainly wasn't a bankruptcy

There probably won't be any bookshops - there certainly wasn't a bankruptcy

There probably won't be any bookshops if we leave them to the Brewers

There probably won't be any bookshops if we leave them to the Brewers

Courtesy of the Atheist Bus Slogan Generator:
can you come up with anything better?

ruletheweb.co.uk/b3ta/bus | tinyurl.com/bus-slogan

Rescuing Chichester’s Christian Bookshop: New Petition Launched

Phil Groom writes:

Yesterday morning we launched a new petition addressed to the Bishop and Diocese of Chichester: Rescuing Chichester’s Christian Bookshop. By midmorning 25 people had signed; by yesterday evening that number had more than doubled, and as with the Durham petition, my intention is to submit the petition to the Bishop whenever a multiple of 50 signatures is reached… so the first copy will be winging its way to him very soon.

Here’s the full text of the petition:

We, the undersigned, call upon the Bishop of Chichester and the Diocese of Chichester to rescue this once outstanding bookshop, previously part of the SPCK chain, from the control of Philip and Mark Brewer and their changing series of organisations (St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust / St Stephen the Great Limited and now Chichester Shop Management Co). 

The Brewers took control of this bookshop, of the entire SPCK Bookshop chain, with fine sounding words, but actions always speak louder than words: the former Chichester SPCK Bookshop is now but a shadow of its former self. Due to the failure of the Brewers to honour invoices for goods received, suppliers have been left high and dry at a time of recession; and the shelves stood empty until recently when stock was brought in from the former SPCK shop in Norwich, which has now been rescued by the local community in Norwich. 

St Olave’s in Chichester has a claim to be the oldest building in the city, yet is in a desperate state of repair. It was set up through covenant to provide information for the community, yet advertising anything that Philip Brewer considers contrary to the so-called ‘Orthodox’ aims of the charity is banned. Mark Brewer has claimed ownership of St Olave’s Church and has announced plans to turn it into an Orthodox place of worship. These men have abused staff, treated covenants and UK employment law with contempt, disregarded debts to their suppliers, fabricated a bankruptcy filing in the USA Courts and blatantly bullied anyone who has stood in their way: it ill-behoves the Diocese of Chichester to play host to them and their presence here casts a shadow over the mission of the wider church. 

Enough is enough: we urge you to take decisive action now to rescue this shop and St Olave’s Church from further depredation. We call upon you to step in, and to remove these men who are bringing Chichester’s Christian heritage into disarray and disrepute. We urge you, please: take back control of this building. It would be better for the shop to be closed than allowed to carry on in its current state. Then, as we see happening elsewhere around the country, people will be free to work together to create something new and bring light to this community. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the shop, you’ll find some information and photos here:

For information about the Brewers’ changing companies and their fabricated bankruptcy filing, see this post, Who are the ENC Management Company? — as cited in the USA Bankruptcy Court motions for dismissal of Mark Brewer’s case.

For information about their contemptuous disregard for UK employment law, refer to Usdaw, who have been fighting for justice on behalf of some thirty former employees (we hope to have more information about yesterday’s Case Management Discussion soon).

Finally for now, proof that those who are determined can break free of the Brewers: Norwich’s new Christian Resource Centre opens its pearly gates.

So please, if you share the concerns expressed, head on over there today and sign this petition. Let’s send a very clear message to

  1. The Bishop and Diocese of Chichester, that we will stand with them in taking whatever action is necessary to Rescue Chichester’s Christian Bookshop from further depredation;
  2. The Chichester Bookshop staff, that we stand with them and support them;
  3. The suppliers who have been robbed, that we share their distress;
  4. The Brewers, that their business practices are not welcome.

I could say more — much more! — but I’ll leave that to you: comments may be left on the petition and here.

Still in the Dark over Pensions

Diary Update
Scheduled for this Thursday, Dec 11th, 4pm: Employment Tribunals Case Management Discussion. See the Diary page for more info.

Phil Groom writes:

We’ve been raising questions about Pensions for some time now, but still seem to be largely whistling in the dark. The most recent discussions have been in the comments thread on Matt Wardman’s article, Durham Cathedral Shop Finances and questionable Saint Stephen the Great payments

Previous posts include:

Now, however, following a recent enquiry from a concerned former bookshop employee, Usdaw’s Legal Department have commented that they “are also having difficulty getting information out of the Church of England Pension Board.”

The problem, Usdaw say, appears to be that whilst the Brewers have paid some contributions, they have failed to provide the information needed about the staff that were in the pension scheme. Missing details include such things as the dates when people left SSG, which makes it difficult for the Pensions Board to work out what contributions should have been paid and correlate this with what has been paid. This seems to tie in with the Pension Board’s recently noted requests for copies of some workers’ payslips.

The situation is exacerbated, of course, by the Brewers ongoing failure to respond to enquiries. Usdaw have provided the Pensions Board with as much information as possible about Usdaw members but any non-Usdaw members who were in the pension scheme would be wise to contact the Pensions Board themselves.

Meanwhile, I’m sure Usdaw would love to hear from anyone who can help them fill in the gaps in their information.

Useful Contacts

Not So Useful Contacts

 


From Salisbury to York

It’s that advert I’m talking about. The one spotted by Matt Wills in Salisbury, calling for volunteers to join

the UK’s most successful Church and Bookshop Charity. – Saint Stephen the great/SPCK bookshops.

A friend tells me they’re also using it in York, although apparently they’ve at last had the decency to take down the SPCK signage from over the door. 

I still haven’t entirely made up my mind whether the Brewers’ behaviour stems from arrogance, malice or sheer stupidity. Probably an unfortunate combination of all three, but whatever the case, if you’re the praying type, please spare a prayer for any unfortunate souls who may decide to respond to the adverts. I can’t think of a worse way to be introduced to the world of Christian bookselling…

Golden Orb Weaver Spider feasts on a finch

Golden Orb Weaver Spider feasts on a Chestnut-Breasted Mannikin Finch

And I’m sure continuing prayers would be appreciated by those unfortunate enough to be caught up in the tangled web the Brewers have wrapped around Durham Cathedral Bookshop. They’re probably feeling rather like this poor finch that found its way into the press this week.

Quite why the Dean & Chapter of Durham haven’t invoked the termination clause in the lease remains a mystery, but if anyone would like to become more closely involved on the Durham side, they’re still advertising for a new Chapter Clerk; not a bad salary, either…

Back to the tangled web, however:

As for the bird, Dr Atkinson said it probably died of fright, dehydration, or exhaustion from its entrapment, rather than direct spider attack. 

“However, it does appear that the spider has decided that good food shouldn’t go to waste and is therefore attempting to eat the bird, which I find entirely believable,” he said.

Looking at what remains of the bookshops, it seems a remarkably accurate assessment…

Quest for Enlightenment

Menus Rearranged
The About page is now called Info and the Petition page is called Durham, which gives us space for Evidence… apologies for any confusion caused… 

Sunday Programme
The report we expected this Sunday has been postponed: probably next week.
Update, 25/9/2008:
not this coming weekend after all — watch this space…  

Petition Reminder
Our online petition to rescue Durham Cathedral Bookshop is still open: if you haven’t already signed it, please read it and consider doing so.
Thank you.

Phil Groom writes:

On Friday 19th September, Neil Denham posted some photos of the Exeter shop in its death throes: SPCK Bookshop Exeter – RIP. I’ve scaled a couple of those pictures down and reproduced them here, but it’s worth clicking through to Neil’s post to see the rest, though it makes for sad reading. Neil’s account reads rather like an obituary:

Of course it was only a shell of a business in the last few years anyway, with no new stock and terrible mismanagement and sporadic opening hours (and weeks on end of being closed), but still, it is a sad sight to see it stripped bare of stock.

Closure of SPCK/SSG Exeter, 19/09/2008

Neil cites an excerpt from an email he received:

I saw a notice declaring a Closing Down Sale with an offer of 40% off all stock. However, whatever staff they had employed were told this morning that the shop was closing today… later there were two men there and cartons (presumably of books) stacked waiting to be loaded. They said they had had instructions to clear everything… the entire stock was being transferred to York.

It’s this last half-sentence that has me puzzled and I’m hoping that someone can enlighten me. My sources tell me that stock from Birmingham was transferred to Durham; that stock from Norwich was transferred to Chichester; and now we learn that the stock from Exeter has been transferred to York.

But who, exactly, owns this stock that’s being merrily shuffled around the country? It’s a question that’s been niggling away in the back of my mind for some time now. Let’s rewind for a moment: in June the Brewers declared that SSG had “been terminated as the trading company to operate the bookshops formerly known as SPCK Bookshops” — instead, they would “be operated by ENC Management Company” (from: SSG files for bankruptcy; also at New Name for SSG?). So what exactly happened here? Did ENC buy out SSG? Or was the whole thing a deliberate fraud foisted upon the book trade by the Brewers in an attempt to evade their debts and avoid paying for this stock that’s now been reallocated to different stores?

As we’ve seen, fraud certainly seems to be within the purview of the US bankruptcy courts, with a weirdness quotient so high that it’s off the scale since the company that the Brewers declared to be bankrupt — SSG LLC — never existed in the first place and consequently could never have employed or dismissed anybody, never ran any shops and never owned any stock…

The reality emerging seems to be that the ENC Shop Management Company along with the Durham Cathederal [sic] Shop Management Company and the Chichester Shop Management Company are (or were: checking this evening I note that Companies House have ENC listed with the name ‘Sue Dawson’ and Chichester with the name ‘Bradley Smith’) all fronts for the Brewers which appear to have been set up for the specific purpose of transferring the assets of the supposedly bankrupt SSG in a way that would allow the Brewers — if the plan had worked — to simply sell the stock and… and… and do what with the proceeds? Pay their workers? Pay their suppliers?

In which case, why not simply talk to your suppliers and request extended credit? Who does own the stock? Does it still belong to the suppliers? Or have Mark and Philip Brewer assumed ownership of it themselves, either personally or under the auspices of these somewhat dubious companies, despite apparently not paying for it? At what point does stock that hasn’t been paid for become stolen property? Are we now looking at a scenario in which the remaining shops are dealing in stolen property? Is it time to call the police?

Of course, I could be wrong: it could simply be a case of total incompetence; but I do think the time has come for these questions to be raised publicly and considered seriously. Somebody, please, enlighten me; and as I said about Third Space Books: buyer beware.

Brewer on the Brink: Bad Faith Special

Phil Groom writes:

Update 20/09/2008: Message for Pauline Edwards from ‘a concerned party’

I’ve contacted both Usdaw and the Bury St Edmunds Employment Tribunals office to request reports on today’s hearings: will post an update when I hear from them. Whilst we wait for that, thought I’d highlight some recent comments:

From dyfrig, September 17, 2008, we have some further analysis of Brewer’s response to Randy Williams’ motion for sanctions. Seems to me that Brewer is well and truly on the brink:

(yes, the same dyfrig whose comments are linked to by Randy Williams’ deposition).

If case filing in the US is anything like the UK, what Brewer is doing is simply laying out his stall of how his case will generally go – quite often, you simply say “Defendant denies the insertion in paragraph 4 of the plaintiff’s case”, so that the court knows where the areas of dispute are. At this stage this look like a skeleton document – the full details of why Brewer disagrees will come later.

As noted above, Brewer does admit that the action was wrong, to the extent that it was “ill-advised”, and shouldn’t have been brought. The question is whether Randy Williams is satisfied with getting him to admit that and taking the financial penalty, or wants to pursue the points of principle. Of course Brewer won’t admit to those points right now, partly because they come with further financial and professional sanction, but also because they would affect the ETs and any action the Charity Comms in England are thinking about.

Speaking as a lawyer, his deposition is the right way to go about it. The trustee has to decide (based on his assessment of the strength of his case) whether to take it further than this and put it in front of a court.

I’m very puzzled by one statement – I’m not sure a Director of a Company can legitimately claim to not know what the assets are, especially as it is the Directors who sign off on the Annual Report and Balance Sheet before it is presented to the AGM – admittedly, Saint Stephen the Great is so new (16th Feb 07) that no Accounts are yet due. However, to be acting properly as a Director Mr Brewer and is colleagues are legally obliged to submit accounts to Companies House of the state of their company at 16th Feb 08 by no later than 16th December this year. As they are 6 months overdue with their annual return (a simple piece of paper listing the names of the directors), it does not appear that they are very good at filing documents.

I suspect that few here need any further convincing of the Brewers’ bad faith, but for any who do, I think Neil Denham‘s recent observation of the Exeter shop back in business, trading under the SPCK name, says it loud and clear. Remember, this is the shop that made the headlines in Ruth Gledhill’s Times Online report in October last year as all the staff resigned and left Philip Brewer ruining the shop single-handedly (also reported in Christian Marketplace and by Dave Walker; the original story in the Exeter Express & Echo seems to have vanished). It was then put up for auction … then withdrawn from sale… so I guess it’s hardly surprising that they can’t make their minds up whether it’s open or closed:

Exeter shop open this week with ageny staff, sign in the window says “closing down” and everything is 40% off. The girls knew a little of what had gone on in the shop, but I suggested a bit of googling for them to entertain themselves… I am sure they will have found this blog by now!

(Hello girls, by the way, if you’ve found us: do feel free to leave a comment.)

But by far the worst example of the Brewers’ bad faith is shown by this heart cry from Pauline Edwards:

WHY Mr Brewer, did you ring me up to say you would pay me?
WHY Mr Brewer, did you build me up , just to knock me down again?
WHY MR Brewer, do you think its ok to treat people like this?
WHY Mr Brewer, do you keep playing mind games?
It has been a week since you have rang me, every day I have checked my bank account, even this morning, you have made me feel the way you did when you sacked me by E-mail on June 4th, you have made me feel the way you did on june 25th, when I had no wages, I just feel very low and sick again. By the way as I said to you I would drop the case if I had my wages, you didn’t keep to your side, so the case still stands this morning in court.

Words do not fail me: it’s just that the words that come to mind are not fit for publication…

.

From: a concerned party, September 20, 2008 at 2:25 am

Please forward a message to Pauline Edwards. Could not find an email access for her from all the comments on this site.
Do not know all details from past discussions stated on this site, but regarding monies to be sent to Ms. Edwards last week. The reality of that specific deposit is that it was not forth-coming due to Hurricane Ike, which hit Houston, Texas on Friday 12Sept’08. The 130 mph winds, rain and flooding knocked out over 4,000,000 homes & businesses leaving them without power, water and other services for many days. Some of the services have been restored, but as of today, power still has not been restored to over 2.5 million people; one of which is the entity that would make the deposit into Ms. Edwards account.
Finally today, after finding power miles outside of Houston to do internet connections, including Ms. Edward’s deposit through Natwest’s (the funding bank’s) commercial online banking system……. Natwest is now doing some type of maintenance until further notice. Therefore, please advise Ms. Edwards that her deposit will be done as soon as Natwest allows access to their commercial systems.
Again, this explanation is strictly to inform Ms. Edwards of the disposition of her deposit and is not to justify or requires any further discussion regarding the past problems Ms. Edward’s has encountered.

I have forwarded this to Pauline. Whoever you are, thank you; my thoughts and prayers are with you and all others affected by Hurricane Ike: very much appreciate your concern and effort in taking the time to provide this information.

— Phil Groom

Gathering the Evidence

Trouble BrewingPhil Groom writes:

It’s been suggested that we should have a page dedicated to pulling together evidence of the Brewers’ bad faith and other misdemeanours: things like continuing to trade under the SPCK name in direct violation of SPCK’s withdrawal of the licence to do so; non-payment of bills for goods or services supplied; questionable stock transfers; illegal termination of employment; improper accounting procedures — essentially anything that might help whoever may be involved in bringing prosecutions here in the UK to build their case.

That page now exists: Collecting the Evidence

If you’d like to contribute, please go there today. If you know someone else who you think could or should contribute please point them to the page.

Thank you.