Tag Archives: Durham Cathedral Shop Management Company

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.

Finding Phil Brewer

Phil Groom writes:

A number of suppliers and other creditors have been in touch to say that Phil Brewer is not responding to emails or other business correspondence. That’s his prerogative, of course, and hardly surprising given his shameful record of business practice here in the UK. I remain completely astonished that despite knowing the facts about his abusive treatment of his employees and the utter contempt he has shown towards his business partners, the powers-that-be at Durham Cathedral continue to provide him with a foothold and safe haven from which to operate: he should be summarily evicted.

Be that as it may, however, here’s a summary of the contact information that I have for him. All of this is drawn from publicly available sources, largely from a simple Google search for Philip W Brewer. A search for his brother, J Mark Brewer, is similarly rewarding, but for today, let’s focus on finding Phil:

You’ll find more info, as well as a round up of creditors already paid, here:

So no more excuses: send the man a Christmas card today; and why not drop the powers-that-be at Durham Cathedral a line as well to tell them what you think of the ongoing situation there? A Christmas card for the beleaguered staff at the Cathedral bookshop might go down well too, come to think of it…

Durham: watching, waiting…

Phil Groom writes:

I confess that I’ve been rather slow about this, but simply to let all visitors know that the Durham Petition is now formally closed. I have updated the petition text with the following introduction:

Following an announcement made by Durham Cathedral on Friday, May 1st, 2009, that “the current operators and occupiers of Durham Cathedral Shop” — ie, the Brewers — have been given one year’s notice to quit, this petition is now closed.

THANK YOU to everyone who has signed it. The story is far from over, however, and the future of the current bookshop employees remains unclear. Please keep them as well as the Dean and Chapter in your prayers as they seek a way forward that will provide justice for all concerned.

Updates will be posted on the SPCK/SSG Blog as and when new information emerges.

Although officially closed, I am leaving the petition in place as a matter of historical record. In the meantime, we watch, and wait.

To the Durham shop staff: I salute you.


Pursuing the Brewers: Contact Info, Facts and Resources

Phil Groom writes:

An unpaid supplier has asked for contact information for the Brewers with a possible view to pursuing them through the courts: I’ve posted the info I have at the bottom of this post, which is all a matter of public record, but I’d like to run through a few points before we get to that.

Suppliers Discussion Group

At the end of last year we set up a private online Suppliers Discussion Group in the hope of facilitating the possibility of a joint action and/or coordinated response. That group still exists: if you’re a supplier and would like to join the group, please request an invitation. Whether or not it achieves anything is entirely your call, of course, but if you simply sit there on the sidelines moaning that nothing’s happening and no one’s doing anything, what do you expect? Ask not Who’s going to do something? but What can I do?

Today is Good Friday and yes, if you take a stand there’s always the risk that, like Jesus, you’ll end up crucified. That’s part of the deal when you follow Jesus and if you didn’t take that on board when you signed up, that’s either because some evangelist wasn’t telling you the truth or because you didn’t read the small print, even though it’s writ large on every page of the Gospels. Christianity isn’t a shortcut to health-and-wealth: charlatans like the Brewers who use Christianity as a way to pimp their own egos and empires are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Sermon over: if you haven’t got it by now, you probably never will.

Taking a Stand

So what, in practice, has happened when people take a stand against the Brewers? They’ve been paid. Every case we have on record of either an individual or an organisation/company tackling the Brewers head-to-head has resulted in settlement; and when J Mark Brewer attempted to take himself to court in his bogus bankruptcy filing, the only thing he demonstrated was his own incompetence, to the point where the court threw him out as a laughing stock. The only way he was able to get out the hole he’d dug for himself was to hire another attorney to haul him out: the man is, quite frankly, an oaf. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, the facts are friendly. 

Cases Resolved So Far

1. Via this blog:

2. Listed by Brewer himself in the official SSG Statement of Financial Affairs (pdf) filed June 19, 2008, with the US Bankruptcy Court, Texas:

  • TBS, The Book Service: Stratford upon Avon County Court, refs PJS/091710 and  8SV00246, p.7.
  • Nick Johnson, refs 1806366/2007 and 1806489/2007, p.6.
  • Kirsty Smith, ref 7QT61858. Listed as ‘Pending’, p.6, but since resolved.*
  • Melanie Carroll, ref 2600803/2007, p.6.
  • Miss A C Speddings, ref 2801875/2007. Listed as ‘Pending’, p.6, but since resolved.*
  • Mike Pickering, ref 1502210/2007, p.6.

* Information supplied in private correspondence.

Most of these have been out of court settlements. Why? Because, quite simply, the Brewers know they don’t have a leg to stand on. The bankruptcy filing scam and the transfer of company assets to other companies were nothing more than a ruse set up in an attempt to evade SSG’s creditors: any review of the evidence will almost certainly result in them being laughed out of the court.

Certificate of Employers Liability Insurance

Certificate of Employers Liability Insurance

Furthermore, here in the UK, SSG has not gone into administration since the case was thrown out of the USA courts; and despite Philip W Brewer’s protestations that there was “no relationship going forward” between SSG and the Durham Cathedral Shop Management Co., we now have very clear evidence of precisely that continuing relationship in the form of the shop’s Certificate of Employers’ Liability Insurance issued in the name of St Stephen the Great Trust (Policy No. SB06000002/05ACI0125269) for the current period November 2008 – October 2009.

Whether a certificate issued in the name of one company to cover employees of what is ostensibly another company is valid is another matter, of course: I’ve asked Ecclesiastical for clarification. The point here, however, is that the Durham shop and, I’m told, the other shops are displaying this certificate: SSG accepts liability for the Durham shop employees. Any claims that the company has ceased trading and has no liability for other aspects of the shop’s business such as its debts are dubious at best if not complete codswallop. 

Thanks to Melanie Carroll for pointing out that the cost of starting a Small Claim through the Courts is relatively small — as little, in fact, as £25 for a claim up to £300 (Fees Leaflet [pdf]) if submitted via the Money Claim Online service, although this service requires an address in England or Wales where documents may be served. If you back up your claim with appropriate evidence — by visiting a shop and taking a photograph of an item you supplied but haven’t been paid for, for instance — you should be in with a good chance. See HMCS (Her Majesty’s Court Service) Making a Claim for practical guidance on submitting a claim or contact the HMCS Helpdesk.

Resources

Brewer Addresses

The Brewers’ addresses are a matter of public record:

1. From the SSG/SPCK Bankruptcy Filing documents:

J Mark & Philip W Brewer - addresses filed with the Texas Bankruptcy Courts

J Mark & Philip W Brewer - from the Texas Bankruptcy Court Documents

2. From Brewer & Pritchard PC, Contact Us page, which also includes a form for submitting messages directly online:

J Mark Brewer
Brewer & Pritchard, PC 
Three Riverway, 18th Floor
Houston, Texas 77056 
.
Phone: 713-209-2950
Fax: 713-659-5302
Email: brewer@bplaw.com
.

3. From Pima County Court Records, pdf | html (Links broken? Try a Google Search for P21-06-033)

Phil & Beth Brewer
2610 W Bountiful Lane
Tucson, AZ 85742
.

4. Phil Brewer’s Business Card, which he left lying around at asingleblog:

Brewer Enterprises

Brewer Enterprises

.

 

Disclaimer
For the avoidance of doubt: nothing included in this post (or any other post on this site) constitutes legal advice. Any action you may or may not take in response thereto and any consequences thereof are your own responsibility.

Anger in Durham as Dean Snubs Petitioners’ Concerns

Phil Groom writes:

Dean of DurhamPetitioners calling for the Brewers’ business relationship with Durham Cathedral to be terminated have responded angrily to an announcement in last Sunday’s Cathedral Newsletter that the Dean’s new book — somewhat ironically, published by SPCK — is to be officially launched from the Cathedral Shop.

One petitioner has bluntly described the Dean’s decision to host his book launch in the Brewers’ shop as verging on “a deliberate two fingers against those who’ve signed the petition”, whilst another, leaving a message on the petition itself, states equally bluntly, “The fact that this petition still exists displays a singular disrespect for those who have signed it.”

I will trust in you, by Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham

I will trust in you, by the Very Revd Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham

The book, entitled I Will Trust In You: Companion to the Evening Psalms, ISBN 9780281059874, is priced at £9.99 but can be pre-ordered from Amazon for only £6.59, a 34% discount.

In November 2008 the Dean responded to a concerned petitioner by issuing a strong statement distancing the Cathedral authorities from the shop, noting that “the Cathedral Chaper does not manage the shop in its Great Kichen.” [sic] and emphasising that the shop “is NOT managed, is NOT controlled and is NOT run by the Cathedral itself.”

The book’s title, however, seems to beg the question: can the Dean be trusted to maintain that distance? If you share the concerns raised here and by the petitioners, please consider writing to the Dean personally to ask him that question and encourage him to seek an alternative venue: contact details may be found on the Cathedral Who’s Who page.

The date of the proposed launch is uncertain, given in the newsletter as March 31st whilst shop staff have reportedly been told that the event is scheduled for April 7th, during Holy Week. As this report goes live there is no mention of the book launch on the Cathedral website NewsNotices or Services & Events pages.

The petition, calling upon the Dean to take urgent and decisive action to free the Cathedral Shop from the Brewers’ control, was launched in August 2008. It now carries more than 360 signatures and remains open until its objective has been reached. If you have not already signed it, please consider doing so and please spread the word.

Durham Cathedral Shop: More VAT Questions

Phil Groom writes:

Durham Cathedral Shop Receipt

Durham Cathedral Shop Receipt

A few days ago, Matt Wardman posted a query about Durham Cathedral Shop’s VAT Number History. Today, I’d like to follow that up by focusing on one specific transaction: the purchase of two Durham Cathedral branded fudge bars on November 24th: copy of my receipt on the right.

It’s a very small purchase, £1.50, an almost insignificant contribution to the day’s sales — but it’s not the amount that’s puzzling me: it’s the VAT status of the items purchased.

Books are zero-rated for VAT: confectionery and most gift items are not. Yet this receipt very clearly shows that this transaction was processed as zero-rated. This means that it’s unlikely to show in the shop’s VAT returns to HMRC; that HMRC are unlikely to get their 17.5% cut (by my calculations, about 23p) on that transaction.

Several explanations come to mind: incompetence; negligence; a simple goods-in or till programming error; perhaps a special exemption for Cathedral Shops whereby they don’t have to charge VAT on ‘Gift Items’; or there’s the unfortunate possibility of intentional fraud — but I’m sure people of Philip and Mark Brewer’s integrity would never set out to defraud anyone, least of all HMRC.

No doubt such errors are routinely picked up and corrected by the company’s accountants; but in the meantime, I can’t help wondering how long this has been going on, how many ‘Gift Items’ are going through those tills as zero-rated. Could be an awful lot of 23p’s and more that need accounting for…

Next time, by the way, I hope to see the price on those fudge bars reduced by a penny or two, now that the VAT rate is down to 15%; unless, of course, there is that special exemption for Cathedral Shops…

Now we Are Sick: A Poem by Mousey

Mousey writes:

SSG was not a good firm.
It has its little ways.
Suppliers vetoed stocking it
for seasons, months and days.

Now, early in December,
with few books upon the shelf,
the cheerless Durham shop feels grim
and sorry for itself.

And, O Father Christmas
if you love them at all,
please send them hope and peace
and freedom from this thrall!

SSG is not a good firm,
if U.S. Courts speak fair.
Though Mark B must study ethics
he won’t lay his conscience bare.

May the people who’ve lost pensions,
all those owed (both great and small)
soon gain some hope and strength again;
be free of Brewers all.

And O Father Christmas,
aka Orthodox Saint Nick,
bring us some joy this Christmas.
At the moment WE ARE SICK!

Durham Cathedral Shop: The Story That Won’t Go Away!

Phil Groom writes:

It just keeps on growing:

  1. Storm rages over cathedral shop: Northern Echo, 28/11/2008
  2. Row breaks out over ownership of cathedral bookshop: Durham Times, 28/11/2008
  3. Critics want cathedral bookshop ‘saved’: Durham Advertiser, 05/12/2008

Where next? Watch this space…

If you haven’t signed the petition, please do read it and, if you share the concerns raised, please sign it.

If you have signed it, please spread the word: a good place to start would be to share this page on facebook.

For more background on this story, please see our dedicated Durham petition page.

Thank you.

For the Avoidance of Doubt: Important Message from the Dean of Durham

From the Very Revd Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham:

For the avoidance of doubt:

I need to state once again that the Cathedral Chaper does not manage the shop in its Great Kichen.  This is run as a franchise subject to strict business law, as it was in the days of SPCK.  Not all petitioners appear to be clear that a franchise is a formal, legal arrangement to which the parties to it are bound.  

I ask petitioner no. 273 (Daid Baxter) to note that this “business within the Cathedral” is NOT managed, is NOT controlled and is NOT run by the Cathedral itself.  His comment that “letters sent to the Cathedral authorities go unanswered” is incorrect and I ask him to withdraw it.  Whatever he means by this,  I can assure him and everyone else that all correspondence addressed to the Cathdral is responded to efficiently and professionally (and, I need not add, all its debts are paid when due).  

Michael Sadgrove
Dean

November 29, 2008, 3:43pm

Phil Groom, Petition Administrator, writes: (updated November 30, 2008, 2:48pm)

Thanks for this, Michael: much appreciated and very encouraging to see you dissociating yourselves from the shop so clearly. Unfortunately it isn’t possible to remove comments from the petition, but I will contact contacted David to alert him to your request and invite him to comment either here or on the Durham page as he sees fit he has kindly responded with a comment below.

With respect to Cathedral correspondence, I can confirm that in my own experience your own and the Chapter’s communications have been as you say.

Part of the problem, unfortunately, is that the business in the Great Kitchen is trading under the Cathedral’s banner as ‘Durham Cathedral Shop’, the name printed on its till receipts, and is an official outlet for Durham Cathedral branded products. As long as this continues then we have a recipe for confusion: as others have noted, visitors to the Cathedral see the shop as an integral part of their overall visitor experience; and if correspondence addressed to the shop or its owners goes unanswered then this inevitably reflects badly upon the Cathedral itself.

No doubt notice to quit has already been served to the shop’s owners in accordance with the terms of the lease, but perhaps in the meantime withdrawing all official Durham Cathedral merchandise from the shop and posting clear disclaimer notices in appropriate places around the Cathedral and on the Cathedral website would help to make the point?

Thanks again, with best wishes for a positive outcome to the situation,

Phil

Durham Cathedral Bookshop: Petition Update: 305 Signatures

Phil Groom writes:

Thank you to all those who have signed the petition to rescue Durham Cathedral Bookshop from the Brewers. We have now passed the 300 signature mark and I have forwarded signatures 251 – 300, with the petitioners’ comments and my own further thoughts on the situation, to the Dean and Chapter, cc’d to the Bishop of Durham and to the Secretary of North East Christian Churches Together for reference. If you have signed the petition and would like a copy of that message — from which this post is largely adapted — please get in touch.

Of the various recent petitioners’ comments, I personally found Natalie Jones’ observations especially telling: here we have someone who is not a Christian yet who nonetheless values the Christian heritage that Durham Cathedral has historically represented – but now finds herself repulsed by this ongoing situation. It is a serious indictment indeed when even those who have no vested interest in Christianity can clearly see the damage that the Brewers are doing:

I am not Christian, but I do enjoy visiting cathedrals and entering into intelligent religious debate. A few years ago, when I visited the Durham Cathedral Book Shop, I was pleasantly surprised by the breadth of reading materials to be found, not just on Christianity, but other religions, and different approaches to faith. I was shocked, however, when visiting the book shop on a recent trip to Durham, to see not only how few books there were, but to find of the scope of titles to be very limited. I am dismayed that a former centre of education has been taken over by fundamentalists who have run the business so badly that the staff cannot order any stock because of unpaid suppliers. The Brewers as destroying an important part of the Cathedral as surely as a suicide bomber might – they are just taking a longer way about doing it, like some kind of infectious mold destroying an old, beautiful piece of stone. Fundamentalism is fundamentalism, not matter what denomination of belief it belongs to.

David Wilkinson’s remarks are also telling:

The United States Bankruptcy Court has thrown out Mark Brewers application to file for the bankruptcy of St Stephen the Great LLC, a company trading in England. If Mark Brewer believes this company to be bankrupt why is the company still a registered Charity? Why is the company collecting tax relieved Gift Aid donations? Why is the company continuing to trade?

As Wilkinson notes, Mark Brewer failed in his attempt to file “St Stephen the Great LLC” — a non-existent company — for bankruptcy in the USA. Personally, I can only see two possible ways of reading that attempt: either Mark Brewer, as one of the real St Stephen the Great (SSG) company’s owners, regards the company as insolvent or he intentionally set out to perpetrate some sort of fraud. There may, of course, be other explanations, although it is noteworthy that the Trustee for the Texas Bankruptcy Courts seemed to view Brewer’s actual filing for bankruptcy as an attempted fraud on the courts

Did the Brewers believe SSG to be insolvent? If so, how is it that the company is continuing to trade? If not, why the attempt to file for bankruptcy? My understanding is that it is illegal for a company to continue trading once it has declared itself bankrupt – and, as appears to be the case here, for such a company to hand over its assets to another company which, as far as I can see, has been set up for no other reason than to acquire those assets in order to allow the company’s owners to evade their debts and continue trading, surely smacks of fraud.

Where then does this leave the Durham Cathedral Shop Management Company, DCSMC? When DCSMC was established, Philip Brewer was adamant that there was no ongoing relationship between SSG and the new company. Yet the same staff continued working, selling the same stock (alongside stock brought in from other branches of SSG) using the same tills and computers. Perhaps most telling of all, however: the same man, Philip Brewer himself, remained (and remains) in overall charge of the business, emailing instructions to the Durham shop staff in his capacity as a representative of SSG, and issuing instructions to the bank to accept cheques made out to SSG… all at the same time as insisting that suppliers must be told that their unpaid accounts were no longer the Durham shop’s concern. Under these circumstances is it not facile to claim that the Durham Shop is a separate entity?

The bankruptcy filings indicated huge debts owed by Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust, of which a significant proportion must surely relate to unpaid suppliers to the Durham Shop as one of the group’s largest outlets. What are we to conclude? The transition from SSG Charitable Trust to the Durham Cathedral Shop Management Company seems to have been handled in a way that sought to avoid responsibility for these debts. The subsequent attempt to put SSG itself into Bankruptcy was interpreted by the US courts in precisely this manner: an attempt by the Brewers to simply walk away from their responsibilities to their creditors.

Of course, I could be wrong: I’m sure that Mark and Philip Brewer are men of integrity who would not dream of scheming to withhold due payments from their suppliers, who would never consider withholding their workers’ wages any longer than absolutely necessary. Appearances can be deceptive and no doubt all these things are due to simple misunderstandings which will soon be resolved. No doubt examination of company accounts will reveal a full audit trail for all the stock transferred between SSG, ENC and DCSMC. No doubt perfectly reasonable explanations will soon be forthcoming. I look forward to that day.