Daily Archives: December 23, 2008

Naughty Thoughts about Durham Cathedral Bookshop

Matt Wardman muses:

Where is Very Rev Brandon Jackson when you need him? He’d sort out Mr Philip Brewer Esq in short order, probably borrowing the Bishop’s sword for the occasion:

The sword is presented to each new Bishop of Durham on entering the diocese of Durham for the first time at Croft Bridge.

It gets better. The tradition is this:

It is a great ceremonial tradition in which the a local dignitary declares: My lord bishop I hereby present you with the falchion wherewith the champion Conyers slew the worm, dragon or fiery flying serpent which destroyed man, woman and child in memory of which the king then reigning gave him the manor of Sockburn to hold by this tenure that upon the entrance of every bishop into the county the falchion sould be presented.

It is the one time since 1642 when we need a Civil War in a Cathedral, and he appears to have gone back to being a Vicar somewhere, or retired.

I say translate The Very Revd Brandon Jackson to the Benefice of Sockburn.

I write with happy memories of a baptismal service in Bradford Cathedral in about 1985 where the Very Rev Jackson delivered a lecture about how the “Holy” water was

“ordinary water, not special water, not different, not transformed, just H2O set aside for a special purpose”.

One other possibly relevant lesson that we should remember from Bradford Cathedral is that even if someone does sue a Cathedral, it is damned difficult to actually collect any money unless the Cathedral wants you to. That would give plenty of time for the legal authorities to catch up with our friends Mark and Phil.

Alternatively, we could wish that it was 1831 when the Bishops of Durham still had their own private army.

In the meantime we will have to remember that in the village of Romaldkirk not so far from Durham, there still exists a set of stocks on the village green. They even have four armholes, so we could do both Brewers at once.

Romaldkirk Stocks

Romaldkirk Stocks (Photo: BBC)

“Cowboy hat” shy with rotten tomatoes while drinking a pint in the local pub across the street, anyone?

Employment Tribunal in Lincolnshire Echo

Matt Wardman writes:

Further developments in the Employment Tribunal cases between ex-staff of the SPCK Bookshops and the Society of Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (plus two further Brewer run businesses entities by which the staff may or may not have been employed depending on what the Tribunal Judge decides was the most likely sequence of events in the business-entity tango during 2007 and 2008).

Anyway, this is how the Lincolnshire Echo reported it:

Bookstore closure legal action date set

Legal action against an American company which owned the SPCK chain of bookstores, including a Lincoln branch, will start in May next year.

A preliminary hearing into industrial action will be held between May 11 and 13.

Four staff at the SPCK Christian bookshop in Sincil Street, which closed in March, have filed claims for unfair dismissal against the shop’s owner, American charity the St Stephen the Great Trust.

The trust, run by Texan brothers Philip and Mark Brewer, has been listed for bankruptcy in the US.

Shopworkers’ union Usdaw is acting on behalf of former SPCK staff in Lincoln and several other branches including those in York and Norwich.

Click here!Usdaw spokesman Cherry Hamilton said: “The preliminary hearing will decide who owned SPCK at the time.”

The Brewer brothers are in dispute with the union over who was the legal owner of the chain, she added.

The preliminary hearing will involve three test cases. The results will affect other claimants, said Ms Hamilton.

The hearing will be held in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

(If you are thinking of buying a book in the Sincil Street shop – don’t bother as it has gone. Buy it here instead at Unicorn Tree Books. I don’t know what a Unicorn Tree is either – a tree with a single corn, perhaps? Ask them for me and let us know below).

SPCK Staff: Tell the Church of England Pensions’ Board all the detail you have

Matt Wardman writes

I crashed into the former SPCK Bookshop story when it became a Free Expression issue back in July after watching with interest since the previous December, and since then I have become simply horrified at what has gone on and how staff, suppliers, the authorities and everyone have been treated with contempt by this pair of Shysters J Mark Brewer and Philip Brewer.

Below is an article from me attempting to help current and ex-staff members get in touch to give the Pensions’ Board the information needed. I am posting it here because the Wardman Wire has a prominence in search engines which is currently greater than the SPCK/SSG News and Information blog. It will be reproduced on the News blog on Monday.

The Brewers’ various corporate vehicles – of which the key one is the Society of St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust – have simply not been responding to requests to supply information about the status of staff pensions, which is itself an entirely contemptible and despicable course of action. Further, there are very real questions about whether the monies that were deducted from staff salaries as “pension contributions” were ever in fact even passed on to the Pensions’ Bodies.

SPCK Staff and ex-Staff Pensions

This is my interpretation, and not an official statement from any of the organisations involved. However, I am told that it highlights some current key issues accurately.

“I’m not claiming be an expert, but this is how I understand some of the issues around pensions. I am not a lawyer, but I hope these comments may help. Among the problems that the Church of England Pensions’ Board are likely to be facing are these:

Eligibility for the Church Workers’ Pension Fund

Eligibility for membership of the Church Workers’ Pension Fund (who manage the SPCK scheme) depends on the potential member being employed by a “Church of England Body”. The SPCK itself counts as such a body. The Society of St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust counted as such a body while the SPCK had the right to appoint a representative to the board of the body. Even after the Bishop of Gloucester and Simon Kingston resigned from the Board of Trustees due to conflicts of interest that “right” persisted.

When employees were transferred to other bodies/business entities (such as ENC Ltd and the companies running Durham and Chichester Shops), where SPCK did not have the right to be represented, therefore eligibility for membership of the Church Workers’ Pension Fund probably ceased at that point.

It is a further problem that it is in dispute when and whether such transfers happened, and what role was played by the St Stephen the Great Company Limited by Guarantee, whether any employees were transferred to THAT entity, when that was done, and whether employees of that entity would be eligible for Pension Fund Membership – bearing in mind that it was the *parent* charity, rather than the *daughter* charity, of the Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust.

Pension Contributions

In the attempt to make “St Stephen the Great LLC” bankrupt in the South Texas Bankruptcy Court, J Mark Brewer submitted documentation showing an unpaid debt to the Church of England Pensions’ Board for a sum of $13396.78. That may be money that employees think has gone to their pensions which has in fact gone to Brewer and Pritchard in “Legal Fees” or to the “Orthodox Church/Christian Mission Fund”, or elsewhere.

If those contributions have not reached the Church of England Pensions’ Board, then – unless they are told – they have no way of working out the relevant entitlement, or hypothetical entitlement (depending on whether the employee was working for an eligible organisation or not).

When they come to work it all out, they will have to make sensible assumptions given a very difficult set of circumstances and probably no one at all is going to be absolutely happy.

The Information needed by the Pensions’ Board

So they need as much information about each and every member of staff worked for SPCK or the other entities, when and what pension contributions have been made or are supposed to have been made.

That kind of information is things like – for example – the names of organisation paying payslips etc as well as deductions from salary.

Additional Voluntary Contributions

AVC’s (Additional Voluntary Contributions) are run by many pension schemes as a means whereby employees can boost their retirement income. The pension fund agrees to the payment and the amount (as there’s a government regulation on how much top up there can be) then the employer makes a deduction from payroll each month. This is shown as a separate deduction on the payslip and is sent to the Pension Provider as a separate payment.

Staff sending information to the Board should certainly advise of AVC payments because if these have not been passed on that really is theft as the money was taken each month from net pay.”

Wrapping Up

The Brewers’ offence is compounded bv the treatment of staff and the $1.5 million that has been admitted to have not been paid to creditors for goods supplied – while J Mark Brewer and Phil Brewer themselves extracted more than $750,000 from the same organisation at the same time – mean that this is not merely a game of leapfrog.

These admissions were made in the documents the attempted Bankruptcy Submission in Texas by J Mark Brewer, with the following statement (PDF, 1Mb) attached:


“I declare under penalty of perjury that I have read the answers contained in the foregoing statement of financial affairs and any attachments thereto and that they are true and correct to the best of my knowledge, information and belief”.

This submission itself was later admitted by J Mark Brewer to be in Bad Faith (PDF 150k):


after the Trustee in Bankruptcy (public official) had Accused J Mark Brewer of perpetrating a Fraud on the Court (PDF 700k).


We encourage everyone who has posted about the closing down of CartoonChurch’s reporting, or taken an interest in the SPCK story, to review developments and publish a suitable end of year post – linking back to the News and Information Blog.