Response to Durham Cathedral expulsion of Shop Lessee from Durham Cathedral Shop

Cross post from the Wardman Wire

Background (source)

In October 2006 the former SPCK Bookshops and their associated websites were entrusted by SPCK to the Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSG), under the control of Messrs Philip and Mark Brewer. Unfortunately shops and staff alike suffered in the transition to new ownership, leading to staff departures, branch closures and uncertainty over opening times for those that remain.

In November 2007 SPCK withdrew SSG’s licence to trade under the SPCK name but throughout 2008 the name was still in use over most of the remaining shops and as of Spring 2009 was still being used in Durham Cathedral Bookshop.

Reports emerging during June 2008 indicated a deepening crisis: SSG filed for bankruptcy in the USA whilst ownership and control of the shops was transferred to a new company — also registered to the Brewers — called ‘ENC Management Company’. The Durham and Chichester shops appear to have been reconstituted as independent trading companies but remain under the Brewers’ personal control.

In July 2008, Mark Brewer attempted to silence reporting on this affair by issuing ‘Cease and Desist’ warnings and threats of legal action against several reporters including Dave Walker, Phil Groom and Clem Jackson of Christian Marketplace magazine. This backfired spectacularly, leading to an explosion of reporting and reposting of Dave Walker’s material across the blogosphere.

On 28th August 2008, however, the bankruptcy filing was dismissed with prejudice by the Texas Bankruptcy Courts and was described by the judge as having been submitted in bad faith: that is, as ‘done for a wrong or improper purpose.’ (The Bookseller, 5 September 2008, Issue No. 5348, p.6). Shortly after this — on 24th September 2008 — the Brewers sold the Exeter shop for £507,000 in violation of a covenant; it is now trading as a jewellery and gift store.

Many of the shop workers who were forced out of their jobs by the Brewers are being supported through Employment Tribunals by Usdaw: these actions are ongoing.

Response to the Specific Situation at Durham Cathedral Bookshop

We welcome the statement today from the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral that notice has been served on the current operators and occupiers of Durham Cathedral Shop requiring them to vacate the premises on 30th April 2010. Bearing in mind that a petiton of almost 400 signatures was submitted to the Dean and Chapter in Autumn 2008, we would have preferred action to have been taken far sooner.

The Durham Cathedral Bookshop has been the flagship shop in the chain, supplying much of the turnover and most of the profit, which has enabled the whole chain to stay afloat for the last three years.

Therefore this action – subject to any legal challenges or actions issued by J Mark and Phil Brewer through their management company – will, we hope, be the beginning of the end of the saga of serious mismanagement of the SPCK Bookshop chain from October 2006 to the present.

We are concerned that the time window until April 2010 will give the Brewers an opportunity to manipulate the business further for their personal benefit.

The Durham Shop continues to use the SPCK logo and materials, permission for which were withdrawn a long time ago, to trade with incorrect Employers’ Liability Insurance, and to ignore obligations in the shop lease to stock a wide range of books. It has been a stain on the reputation of Durham Cathedral.

The records of the attempted Bankruptcy revealed that large sums of money had “gone missing”. We have documented how sums in excess of $700,000 had been removed from the finances of the Durham Cathedral Bookshop under questionable circumstances to other businesses and charities controlled by the Brewers. Other monies from the Bookshop Chain had been spent in unusual ways for a charity, including the maintenance of an aeroplane owned by Phil Brewer, who was responsible for management of the Durham Cathedral Shop.

The mismanagement of the Durham Cathedral Bookshop, and the whole former-SPCK chain, requires proper investigation and resolution.

Matt Wardman, mattwardman AT gmail DOT com
Phil Groom, groom DOT phil AT gmail DOT com

Notes

For more information about the history of the SPCK saga, check these links:

  1. Durham Cathedral Shop Finances and questionable Saint Stephen the Great payments
  2. Durham Cathedral Shop Adverts and Anagrams: Third Space Books = Crooks Ship A Debt
  3. The SPCK/SSG Newsblog: https://spckssg.wordpress.com/
  4. My original article back in December 2007, including an interview with Mark Brewer and others.
  5. An introduction to the Dave Walker case (legal threats).
  6. A recent visit to Durham Cathedral Bookshop.
  7. Pursuing the Brewers: Contacts and Facts.
  8. Questions for J Mark Brewer: SPCK Bookshops Asset Stripping. Ministry of Truth cross-post.

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