Monthly Archives: April 2009

No Signs of Change in Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral: View from the riverPhil Groom writes:

Durham. I visited last Tuesday, April 21st: a beautiful spring day, a walk down by the river, lunch in the Cathedral Café. Magnificent. If you’ve never been to Durham, you really should take some time out to pay a visit. Click the thumbnails for bigger pictures.

Durham Cathedral: Shop EntranceI wandered on to the bookshop: the bookshop about which the Dean of Durham, the Most Very Revd Michael Sadgrove, has himself personally emphasised

this “business within the Cathedral” is NOT managed, is NOT controlled and is NOT run by the Cathedral itself.

So who is running it? The sign at the entrance seems perfectly clear: “The Cathedral Shop”. There was scaffolding up when I arrived: were they about to change the sign to something less misleading? Unfortunately not: it was something higher up.

Cathedral Shop gifts and booksI walked in to be met by another couple of signs: “Cathedral Shop gifts and books” and “Durham Cathedral: This SPCK book and gift shop was opened on Monday 22 December 1997 by — ” I forget who: some historic personage; and perhaps that’s the point: the sign is part of the shop’s history, and Durham Cathedral is big on history.

Durham Cathedral: This SPCK book and gift shop...But it looked for all the world to me like a sign declaring the shop’s ownership. I wondered if, as had once been planned, Jarrolds had taken over the shop, would it have been left in situ, boldly proclaiming for the avoidance of doubt that this is an SPCK bookshop? Somehow, I doubt it.

Durham Cathedral Shop: gift item with SPCK price labelI wandered further in. You’ll notice a lot of wandering — and wondering — in this post. A friendly young lady greeted me with a smile at the till. I smiled back and nodded. I met several members of staff: they were unfailingly friendly and polite, which, given their plight — working for a minimum wage, employed via an agency a third party organisation by two obnoxious rogues (yes, Messrs Brewer: that’s you I’m referring to) who treat their staff with complete contempt and their customers like cattle to be milked in some sort of cowboy’s power games — was quite astonishing.

Durham Cathedral Shop: SPCK label by the tillI knew that stock was likely to be fairly thin on the ground in the shop, having seen asingleblog’s photos. I’m not sure that I was really prepared for how thin the stock was. The staff had done an admirable job of spreading it out, most books face out on the shelves and most shelves facing customers entering the shop almost convincingly full. But like the signs at the main entrance and the SPCK labels on the goods and by the till, this was a facade: once inside the Great Kitchen and looking back towards the entrance, the huge gaps were glaringly obvious.

Durham Cathedral Shop: Local Interest Section

Durham Cathedral Shop: Local Interest Section

Lease Excerpt

Excerpt from the SPCK-Durham Cathedral Lease (see below)

The situation beggars belief. The terms of the original lease with SPCK, excerpted below, were very specific: a wide range of stock to be maintained in all areas. These terms have been comprehensively breached. Yet the Dean and Chapter allow the Brewers to continue trading; worse yet, they allow them to continue trading under the guise of an SPCK bookshop, bringing both SPCK and the Cathedral into disrepute.

Visitors have absolutely no way of knowing that the shop is no longer operated by SPCK: on the contrary, they are misled by out of date signage and SPCK labels still in use around the shop.

Given that in November last year the Dean was adamant in his denial of any responsibility for the shop, why does he allow this? 

I need to state once again that the Cathedral Chaper [sic] does not manage the shop in its Great Kichen [sic]. 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.

Strict business law that one side, it seems, is allowed to ignore with impunity; a formal, legal arrangement to which only one party appears to consider itself bound and which the other treats with utter contempt.

Durham Cathedral: Chapter OfficeI finished my visit by calling in at the Chapter Office in the hope of introducing myself to the Dean and asking him a few questions. Unfortunately he wasn’t there. I left my card with the receptionist and wandered away, saddened, bemused and more than a little angry. There is a grim darkness — a Texan darkness — at the heart of Durham Cathedral, and the sooner it is excised, the better.

An Excerpt from the SPCK-Durham Cathedral Lease

SPCK hereby promise to stock…

(a) A wide range of books of interest to visitors to Durham and the Cathedral

(b) A wide range of cards, stationery, souvenirs and gift items likely to be purchased by visitors to Durham and the Cathedral. … so that both parties are satisfied that standards appropriate to the shop are maintained…

(c) A wide and diverse range of religious books, including children’s books.

(d) Adequate stockholding for parochial needs in the diocese.

(e) A wide range of theological texts appropriate to the needs of students and more specifically those theological texts required by the syllabus of Durham University and the Theological Colleges.

 

Ask No Questions: Google De-index Unity’s Questions for J Mark Brewer

Phil Groom writes:

From Unity’s latest Liberal Conspiracy column, Libel, Google and a cause worth supporting:

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with Google’s Webmaster Tools and came across a rather curious stream of messages from Google, which appear to have started last November:

For legal reasons, we’ve excluded from our search results content located at or under the following URL/directory:

Removed from:

  • *.google.uk

Cause: We were requested to remove this URL from our search results in order to comply with local law.

The message also provides a link to a web page at the Chilling Effects Clearing House to which Google sends any cease and desist notices and other legal threats it receives, as a matter of policy, although five months on from this complaint, the only additional information this page provides is this:

Notice Unavailable

British Defamation Complaint to Google

The cease-and-desist or legal threat you requested is not yet available.

Chilling Effects will post the notice after we process it.

Google has received a legal complaint and submitted it here to the Chilling Effects database, as described in Google’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act policy. In response to the complaint, Google may have removed content from a search results page or hosted page.

The back story here starts with a cease and desist notice sent by J Mark Brewer, a Texan lawyer, to a British blogger and cartoonist, Dave Walker…

Head on over to Liberal Conspiracy to read Unity’s full report, and over to Unity’s original page to revisit the questions Google don’t want us to ask

Questions for J Mark Brewer: SPCK Bookshops Asset Stripping. Ministry of Truth cross-post.

Cross-post from the Wardman Wire: Matt Wardman writes:

stand-up-spck-upIn the second half of 2008, I devoted a lot of time and space to a campaign to expose the way in which a a pair of Texan Brothers, J Mark and Philip Brewer, had been despoiling and asset stripping the chain of bookshops that used to be owned by the SPCK Christian Charity.

Their activities include bullying, sackings by email, large property transactions that appear to be fraudulent, having an attempt to take a UK-based charity into liquidation in the USA “dismissed with prejudice” and much more. You can read about it in great depth at the SPCK/SSG News Blog. There are also in excess of 30 Employment Tribunal claims – from a previous workforce of only a couple of hundred. The questions in this post only scratch the surface of a 2 year saga.

I been off this campaign for several months, due to family complications as I mentioned previously.

Now, however, Unity from the Ministry of Truth, who has been working on this campaign as well, has discovered that someone has pushed Google into delisting one of his key articles.

Read Unity’s account of the immediate background over at Liberal Conspiracy.

This is the full text of the article excluded from Google, which is a set of questions Unity sent to J Mark Brewer asking him to account for his actions.

I’ve noticed that a few bloggers have taken to sending “I am Dave Walker” e-mails to J Mark Brewer at his office e-mail address. I’m not sure quite how wise a move that is on its own, although his rather santimonius comments in reply are quite amusing.

That said, I’ve taken the liberty of send Brewer an e-mail of my own, as there are a few questions I’d like him to answer:

Dear Mr Brewer,

Having reviewed the documents filed with the US Bankruptcy Court in relation to the chapter 7 application by ‘SSG LLC’?

1. It has been suggested that St Stephen the Great LLC, the company name used in the chapter 11/7 application does not exist as a legal entity – is this true and, if so, why was the application filed in this name, which was also used in the redundancy notices issues to employees of SPCK?

2. It has also been suggested that the actual legal entity to which the application relates is St Stephen the Great Ltd/St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust, a UK registered company/charity. Is this the case and, if so, can you explain why you are seeking to liquidate a UK registered entity in a US bankruptcy court?

3. The schedule of creditors indicates that the largest creditor of ‘SSG LLC’ is the Orthodox Church Mission Fund of Houston and that, in addition to payments of around $325,000 to this organisation from the funds of ‘SSG LLC’ since September 07, including $75,000 or so just prior to announcing that it would go into chapter 11, there is still an outstanding balance of $494,000. How is that that a charity running a chain of Christian book shops in the UK can come to owe a US-based private grant making foundation over $800,000?

4. Assuming that the ‘SSG LLC’ named in these papers is the UK registered charity, were the Charity Commission notified that it has incurred debts of this size and have they been notified that you are seeking to liquidate the charity in the US?

5. The schedule of payments made in the 90 days prior to the bankruptcy application shows payments of around $110,000 to your law firm, with an outstanding balance of £56,000. Given that you are a trustee of the charity, did you obtain the assent of the Charity Commission as a trustee of the charity before contracting out legal work to you own law firm or confirm with them that this would not be considered an unlawful trustee benefit?

6. I note that responsibility for those SPCK stores that remain open in the UK has transferred to a company called ENC Shop Management, but for two shops in Durham and Chichester Cathedral which operate as separate entities. In all case, however, you remain a director of these companies having been a director/trustee of SSG/SSGCT. Were any of the assets of SSG/SSGCT transferred to these companies and, if so, when did the transfer take place and what authorisation, if any, did you obtain for the Charity Commission for such a transfer?

Finally,

7. Given that that you issued a ‘cease and desist’ notice to cartoonist Dave Walker on the same day that Randy Walker filed a motion to dismiss this application which note a considerable number of serious discrepancies in the application, is it not reasonable to infer that that the notice sent to Mr Walker was prompted by a desire on your part to prevent him from commenting on and publicising the content of the motion to dismiss?

Regards

Unity
www.ministryoftruth.me.uk

If I get a response from him, you’ll read it here first

J Mark Brewer’s Declared Debts

Phil Groom writes:

Courtesy of Ministry of Truth, this information entered the public domain not long after Brewer himself submitted it as part of last year’s failed bankruptcy filing. Matt Wardman posted some analysis of the situation in December 2008, but as far as I’m aware, the actual schedule of debts has not previously been transcribed to text. So here it is, creditors as named by Brewer in his submissions to the Texas Bankruptcy Court dated June 19, 2008, sorted by amount due.

Please note that this list is not complete: it only includes the creditors listed on the initial Statement of Financial Affairs (pdf, 1.2 MB) — the Amended Schedule E & F (pdf, 1.9 MB), Schedule F Continuation (pdf, 1.7 MB),  Schedule F Continuation 1 (pdf, 132 KB) and Schedule F Continuation 2 + Schedule G (pdf, 3.8 MB) run to 111 pages listing scores of other creditors with a total stated debt of $1,624,258.11.

  • Creditor: Amount Owed
  • Orthodox Christian Mission Fund: $494,097.56
  • HM Revenue & Customs – VAT: $62,824.74
  • HM Revenue & Customs – VAT: $57,615.60
  • Brewer & Pritchard, P.C.: $56,694.98
  • Employees of SSTG LLC c/o Moorepay: $52,886.06
  • Marston Book Services: $48,138.20
  • St Andrew’s Bookshop: $40,118.76
  • STL Wholesale: $38,211.13
  • Booksolve Computer: $36,955.57
  • Charles Farris Ltd: $31,048.73
  • Network Business Call: $28,294.07
  • Cocoabean (Oriel) : $4,770.75
  • BT-One Bill: $3,712.77
  • Subtotal for these Creditors: $955,360.92

The ‘Orthodox Christian Mission Fund’ — to whom the largest amount due was declared — is Brewer’s own organisation (described by him as ‘our “sister” charity’). Quite how Brewer could run up a debt just shy of half a million dollars to his own organisation — alongside a further $57k to his own company, Brewer & Pritchard, (4th largest debt) — remains something of a mystery.

Rumour has it that Booksolve have been paid. If any others beyond those identified earlier this month have been paid, they’re keeping quiet about it.

Looking Back: April 2008

Phil Groom writes:

Thought it might be a worthwhile exercise to look back at how this month panned out last year. These are the reports that I’ve tracked down, most recent first, Dave Walker posts courtesy of Cease & Desist unless otherwise indicated. (B) = Blog post, (N) = News report:

If nothing else, it highlights the need for vigilance: as we saw with Exeter, the moment Brewer thinks he can get away with a bit of dodgy dealing through the back door, one of the other remaining shops is sure to go to line his back pocket — or his retirement fund, whatever it was he used that half a million for…

Comparing Notes: What a Bookshop Shouldn’t Look Like, and What It Should

Phil Groom writes:

Thanks to asingleblog for permission to repost these pictures from the Durham Cathedral Shop:

Holy Week in Durham Cathedral Shop, 1 and 2 Durham Cathedral Shop, Holy Week 2009, 3 and 4

This, then, is how the shelves were looking during Holy Week this year in what was once described as one of the UK’s finest theological bookshops; and these “are just a few photos,” says asingleblog. “Some shelves are entirely empty.” 

As asingleblog asks, How bad does it have to get? Instructing staff to lie to suppliers about the company’s liability for its debts, trading without a valid Certificate of Employers’ Liability Insurance and failing to keep the shelves adequately stocked — not to mention the question of how much of this remaining stock is in real terms stolen property, belonging to unpaid suppliers! This is now Durham Cathedral’s heritage, this is what Durham Cathedral now offers to its visitors courtesy of J Mark and Philip W Brewer.

At the time of writing our petition calling upon the Dean and Chapter “to take decisive action now to rescue the shop from further decimation” runs to 364 signatures. Alan Parker, the 357th person to sign it, asks:

Is the North East going to be the forgotten region for access to vital Christian literature? This is in fact the cradle of Christianity in England!

For comparison, I offer you these pictures which I took at the beginning of Lent, during a visit to Sarum Books, Salisbury, a fine example of how a Christian bookshop ought to be stocked, making the most of every inch of shelf space:

Ready for Lent at Sarum Books, 1 and 2 Ready for Lent at Sarum Books 3 and 4

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.