Monthly Archives: November 2008

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 in the Northern Echo Newspaper

Matt Wardman writes:

Today there is an article about the plight of the Durham Cathedral Bookshop in the Northern Echo Newspaper. The article features the petition we started a few weeks ago, which now has more than 300 signatures.

The Messrs Brewer, who control the company that runs the bookshop, did not want to be interviewed.

Storm rages over cathedral shop

AN unholy row has broken out over the running of a cathedral bookshop.

More than 300 people have signed a petition calling on the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral to “rescue” its shop from its US owners.

Critics say Phil and Mark Brewer’s Saint Stephen the Great Trust has “ravaged” the shop, once described as “the best theological bookshop in the world”, leaving it a shadow of its former self.

The trust took over the bookshop from the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge in November 2006.

Disgruntled opponents have a growing online petition, called Rescuing Britain’s Christian Heritage: Durham Cathedral Bookshop, which invokes a Biblical story of Jesus to support their case.

It reads: “Surely enough is enough.

We urge you (the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral) to take decisive action now to rescue the shop from further decimation…

Read it all

.

Signs of Change in Salisbury?

Phil Groom writes:

Received the message below from a contact in Salisbury this afternoon. Wonder what else Trading Standards are looking into? Hopefully more than just the signage! I’m guessing this is a result of SPCK’s legal bods pushing the name licensing issue, but it might equally well be following up a private complaint; whichever, it’s a step in the right direction:

I understand that the Salisbury shop has been visited by Trading Standards and has been given a number of weeks in which to remove all SPCK signage and replace it with SSG information. As of this morning, the SPCK lettering on the fascia board has been taken down. 

Durham Petition: Chapter Clerk Replies

Phil Groom writes:

Thank you to the Dean and Chapter of Durham for their reply, copied below, to my message forwarding the latest 50 signatures on the petition to rescue Durham Cathedral Bookshop from the Brewers.

This excerpt from my message sets the context for their reply:

… there is a growing sense of astonishment that the Cathedral is still allowing the Brewers to trade from its premises. The impression given by this ongoing situation is that the Cathedral authorities are not sufficiently concerned about the quality of their visitors’ experiences to take the necessary action to resolve it. 

I am sure that this impression is false and that you and your colleagues are extremely concerned, not only about your visitors’ experiences but also about the Cathedral’s reputation which the Brewers continue to tarnish by their dubious business practices, their reprehensible treatment of their staff and their pursuit of their own so-called ‘Orthodox’ mission agenda. Their continued promotion of their particular brand of Orthodoxy – disowned by the wider Orthodox community here in the UK – must surely be to the detriment of the Cathedral’s own mission as a centre of Anglicanism…

… I would be very grateful – indeed, it would be very helpful to all concerned – if the Chapter would be kind enough to make a public statement to help allay the concerns raised, please. In the meantime, I will continue to collect signatures and will forward them to you whenever a multiple of 50 is reached…

Here then is their reply, followed by my further response:

From: Paul Whittaker
Subject: Petition Update: Durham Cathedral Bookshop
Date: 25 November 2008 10:18:18 GMT
To: Phil Groom

Dear Mr Groom

The Dean has asked me to thank you for your e-mail of yesterday and to reply on his behalf.

As you state in your letter we are all of course extremely concerned, and we read the many comments with much more than just passing interest.

But as you have previously been kind enough to acknowledge, you accept our assurances that we are not sitting on our hands even if, for sound reasons, it may appear on the surface that little is happening.

We wish we could say more in public but, at the front of the current situation, injudicious comment will not assist it.  I hope you will feel able to respect that reticence.

With best wishes,

Yours sincerely

P M A Whittaker
Chapter Clerk

My response:

From: Phil Groom
Subject: Re: Petition Update: Durham Cathedral Bookshop
Date: 25 November 2008 13:02:20 GMT
To: Paul Whittaker

Dear Mr Whittaker,

My thanks to both the Dean and to you for this response – even a brief note such as this is helpful and I am sure it will go some way towards reassuring those who have signed the petition that their voices are being heard and that the concerns raised have been noted.

As you say, injudicious comment will not help the situation; but a careful and judiciously crafted statement is, of course, another matter and if the Chapter would like to carefully consider what may be said then I am sure such a statement would be warmly received and would, I very much hope, help to win back some of the customers whose trade has been lost.

The Cathedral Shop is far too important a resource to the Diocese – indeed to the whole area – for its running to be left in the hands of men whose agenda is so far removed from that of the Cathedral itself — men who have demonstrated their complete lack of concern for staff welfare, for customer service and even the elementary tenets of honesty and integrity in dealing with others that are essential for running a business, tenets that are all the more important when that business represents the public face of the Cathedral.

Assuming no objections, as an interim measure I will post this brief response on the SPCK/SSG News Blog and I look forward to receiving a fuller response in due course.

My thanks once again, assuring you of my support in whatever action may be necessary to resolve the situation,

With best wishes,

Yours sincerely,

Phil Groom

Phil Groom
SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info
https://spckssg.wordpress.com

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.

Four Months Today

Phil Groom writes:

Thanks to David Keen, who sent the following message to all members of the ‘We Support Dave Walker’ facebook group this morning. I’ve added some [footnotes] linked to the relevant posts and listed below.

Dear everyone,

It’s 4 months ago – 22 July – that Dave Walker received his legal threat from Mark Brewer and was forced to take down his SPCK posts [1]. If you have a blog, you might want to mention that today.

As you may know, Mark Brewer has been fined by the US courts for bringing a time-wasting court action for bankruptcy [2], and we now hear that his company is being investigated by the Charity Commissioners [3]. These are all matters Dave would have reported if he had not been bullied and threatened. 

If you’d like to do something supportive, you can sign a petition to Durham Cathedral to ask them to intervene over the SSG bookshop they host: http://spckssg.wordpress.com/petition/ [4]

Latest developments are online at http://spckssg.wordpress.com/, very interesting leaked email gone up in the last few days [5]. 

And finally, still no reply from Mark Brewer to the letter I sent (twice) on our behalf [6]. Very disappointing. He expects Dave to respond within a few hours, and yet doesn’t even bother to answer us within a month. Disgraceful.

Thank you for your ongoing support of Dave. Truth and justice will win, it’s just taking longer than we’d hoped! 

David Keen

  1. ‘Cease and desist’ demand from Mark Brewer
  2. Transcription of Court Documents: Order for Motion to Compromise Controversy and Final Decree
  3. Charity Commission Replies: Formal Inquiry In Progress
  4. Rescuing Britain’s Christian Heritage: Durham Cathedral Bookshop
  5. Durham Cathedral Bookshop: A Case Study in Dealing with Debt – Philip Brewer Style
  6. A Letter to Mark Brewer
We Support Dave Walker - 500 Members, 19 Oct 2008

We Support Dave Walker - 500 Members, 19 Oct 2008

Durham Cathedral Bookshop: A Case Study in Dealing with Debt – Philip Brewer Style

Phil Groom writes: Updated 20/11/2008

If you’ve got a longer memory span than a woolly mammoth you’ll remember last month’s post on Dealing with Debt – Philip Brewer Style. It’s all about lateral thinking, and I have before me some very interesting email correspondence between Durham Cathedral Shop Management Company and Philip Brewer dated March 12, 2008, the day after the new company was established on March 11.

I leave you to draw your own conclusions: comments are enabled and welcome. My apologies to those who left comments on the original post, 19/11/2008 — I will contact you individually about reinstatement of those comments, or, if you can remember what you said, please feel free to reinstate them yourselves. Thank you.

Durham’s questions in plain text, Brewer’s responses in blue:

1. What happens to the cheques that will be sent in for ledger accounts made out to St Stephen the Great of which the statements have already been sent. What are they now to have on them as you won’t be able to fit Durham Cathedral Shop Management Co on the cheque. (would Durham Cathedral Shop be enough) I will instruct the bank to take them as per normal. Just deposit them to the new account number I gave you.

2. Do we have to wait until new accounts are opened before we place any more orders for stock or customer orders. Please work with your suppliers as a new entity. Ignore whatever was and whoever was in the past. We are now a new company, with no relationship to the old going forward. So, contact your suppliers, tell them the drill, that you are a new company and that you would like to begin trading. When and if asked about billing, tell them they should process that at vendor-accounts, as you are not aware of how they are paying old invoices, etc. they will need to chase Saint Stephen the Great Trust as they have been doing. We also need to know of who we can say will be our references. What are your recommendations? Also what do we say if the suppliers ask about the invoices that we already owe for ? since we are new, we can’t owe anyone anything yet.

3. Is it okay to contact Booksolve to get the tills and computers changed to Durham Cathedral Shop (do we need to have Management Co on this or will Durham Cathedral Shop do Yes, you may do this. I have already requested they give me a cost for the service to continue. So you are welcome to contact them to make this change. Remember, we are a new company. No need for you to get involved with or diverted with what bills etc are being paid by whom.

Petition Update

As I write the petition to rescue Durham Cathedral Bookshop from the Brewers now stands at 279 signatures. We need another 21 signatures to reach the 300 mark, at which point it will again be presented to the Dean and Chapter.

If you have not signed the petition, please consider doing so.

If you have signed it, thank you. Please consider following it up by:

Ask them: why is the Diocese of Durham allowing a rogue trader to run its Cathedral Bookshop??