Monthly Archives: August 2009

and finally….. Durham?

David Keen writes

It sounds like the bookshop formerly known as SPCK Chichester is now closed, which leaves only Durham still under the control of the Brewer brothers. Durham Cathedral have already given them notice to quit – by April next year – but the Charity Commissioners may have other views.

If Chichester has been closed because the CC’s deem it to be an asset of the former ‘Society of St. Stephen the Great’ charity, and therefore part of the tribunal settlement with former staff, then logic suggests that they do the same with Durham. Every other remaining shop in the former SPCK chain is already under Charity Commissioners control.

If you’re planning to buy anything from Durham, then you might want to get a move on. The Cathedral want to re-open the shop after they’ve evicted the Brewers, but I can’t see the Commissioners waiting until April 2010. Former staff have been promised full payment of their tribunal settlement within 3 months, so I guess the CC’s will be looking to identify assets during that time frame.

And that will be that: the end of the SPCK bookshop chain in its final incarnation. Several former shops have reopened under new management, and places like Durham will probably be viable under proper management, but there’s wider issues in Christian bookselling, and this isn’t exactly the best time to be starting up a new shop.

Still a stack of ongoing issues:
– If SPCK passed on the shops to the Brewers under a covenant stating that they should continue to operate as Christian bookshops, does that still stand now the Charity Commissioners have taken possession?
– If so, will we have a government agency running a chain of Christian bookshops? (!!??!)
– SPCK themselves have been very quiet for much of the last 2 years, possibly for legal reasons. But having made the decision to hand the bookshops over to Mark and Phil Brewer, there has to be some kind of review of that decision, and some learning of lessons.
– There are other untraced monies, like pension contributions.
– At what point will Phil and Mark Brewer be brought to justice, rather than simply be forced by the courts to cough up what they already owe?

…And so on…. please pray for all the folk caught up in this, it’s deeply sad, and bookshop staff are caught in an incredibly difficult position. However if a stocktake (of the orthodox sort) in Durham is on the cards, then that might be of some help to the Charity Commissioners.

cross posted from St. Aidan to Abbey Manor


Podcast Interview with USDAW Legal Department about Bookshop Tribunal

Matt Wardman writes:

Last week we reported that a negotiated settlement had been reached and now implemented in the Employment Tribunal action between 32 ex-employees of the former-SPCK bookshop chain, and the Society of Saint Stephen the Great, now controlled by the Charity Commission through an Interim Manager.

I have done a podcast interview with Christine Peacock of the USDAW Legal Department, who has handled the employee cases (and the cases of paperwork) for the last couple of years. This interview aims to show some of the complexity of the case, and to give an inside view of the process. Here it is:

For new visitors, the background to this interview is that I’ve been involved with others in a campaign to place a spotlight on the mismanagement and asset-stripping of the chain of 25 bookshops which used to go under the name of SPCK, by the brothers J Mark and Philip Brewer. This blog has a very detailed account.

A community of campaigning bloggers, and a wider international network based mainly on Facebook and other social media sites, has had a role in this over a period of more than 2 years – gathering information, helping to expose a fraudulent bankruptcy attempt, keeping the Charity Commission on the case, and maintaining a spotlight on the case.

But this still has a long way to run – notably because there are still many small businesses who were simply never paid, and because compensation payments still have to be made – though that can be expected now that the Brewer Brothers no longer control the charity. There are more complex aspects such as what happened to pension and national insurance contributions which the Brewer Brothers never passed to the correct recipients.

And then there is the matter of bring Mark and Philip Brewer to some sort of justice, and making sure that those who need to learn the lessons from this debacle do just that. It is one more signifcant step forward, however.

The two Facebook groups are We Support Dave Walker (who was “Cease and Desisted” after 18 months of objective reporting; his blog is here), and A group for all those people who mourn the tragic demise of SPCK Bookshops, which still have a combined membership of well over 500 activists and supporters.

Making the News: The Usdaw Settlement

Phil Groom writes:

After such a long time of what feels like a few diehards more or less going it alone, it’s good to see the Usdaw settlement story making the news in so many places — thanks to all concerned and congratulations to Usdaw’s PR dept!

Search results for bookshop workers win payout: Google | Twitter

I’ve added all that appear to be genuine reports, including where they’ve simply run verbatim with the Usdaw press release, to the News Index. Best headline award in my opinion goes to Louise Nousratpour in the Morning Star:

Taking Stock in Chichester

Phil Groom writes:

I have been informed that the Charity Commission are now closing in on the Chichester shop. Anyone in Chichester, please keep your eyes peeled and cameras ready to record any suspicious activity…

Official Usdaw Press Release: Victory for workers sacked by email

Download Full Press Release (pdf, 224kb)

Download Full Press Release (pdf, 224kb)

Phil Groom writes:

Usdaw released the Press Release (html | pdf, 224kb) copied below today, Wednesday 19 August 2009. The Notes to Editors appended to the press release give a superb summary of the whole Brewer debacle to date, so be sure to click through to read that; and don’t miss this BBC report: Sacked bookshop staff win payout!

The story is, of course, far from over yet, with Philip W ‘Slippery Fingers’ Brewer apparently still in personal control of the Chichester and Durham shops. Reports emerging indicate that the Charity Commission are closing in, however…

Victory for workers sacked by email

32 sacked Christian bookshop workers have finally won a substantial payout with the help of shopworkers’ union Usdaw.

The workers were employed by the long-established SPCK chain of Christian bookshops until they were transferred to a charity called Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSG) in November 2006, controlled by two American brothers, Mark and Philip Brewer.

The Brewers tried to force the staff to sign new contracts which gave them longer hours, fewer holidays and poorer pension rights.

Between February and June 2008 the 32 workers were sacked by the Brewer brothers, with many getting the news by e-mail, breaking UK employment law.

Usdaw launched a legal fight to help the workers get justice and the money they were owed when they were sacked, lodging claims in the Employment Tribunal.

Heather Leather, one of the sacked workers, said:

“We were so pleased to have Usdaw behind us when all this happened. At the shop where I worked the staff had a total of more than 100 years’ service between us. We simply didn’t know what was happening when the Brewers started all this, and we never expected to be treated this way, when we had done nothing wrong. But Usdaw was behind us from the start and guided us round all the legal hurdles the Brewers tried to put in our way.”

John Hannett, Usdaw General Secretary, added:

“We are delighted that these long-serving and dedicated members have finally won the compensation they deserve. We believe they have been treated appallingly, with no regard for British law or for the loyalty of the staff.

“Usdaw’s Legal Department has worked hard to ensure that justice was achieved for these workers. Because the case was so complex, affecting people in shops across the country, they would never have been able to get such a great result without the backing of a union, and Usdaw is proud to have been able to help them.”

Tribunal Payouts Agreed

Phil Groom writes:

Negotiations between Usdaw and the Charity Commission’s Interim Manager to settle the Employment Tribunal claims of the former SPCK/SSG Bookshop employees have now been completed, with an agreement signed through ACAS.

The amounts being paid to Usdaw’s members are confidential for three months (negotiations with other claimants and creditors are believed to be still underway), but all Usdaw claimants have been notified and initial payments are expected to be made this week. Further payouts should follow after the sale of some of the charity’s assets by the Charity Commission.

Congratulations to all concerned and a massive round of applause and vote of thanks to Christine Peacock, Usdaw’s Senior Legal Assistant, and the rest of Usdaw’s legal team for all their efforts.

h/t asingleblog for this information… and after all the hassle and headaches I can’t believe I’m writing this so dispassionately: party time people!!

Party Time

Newcastle: Access Made Easy

Phil Groom writes:

Thanks to David Scott-King, who took these photos on August 10, 2009. Sorry, I know it’s more tragedy than irony, but I had to laugh…

Newcastle Christian Bookshop

Newcastle Christian Bookshop

Interim Manager's Notice

Interim Manager's Notice: Access Restricted

Unopened post ... but what's that I see??

Unopened post ... but what's that I see??

Access Made Easy

Access Made Easy

Philip Brewer files for Chapter 13 Personal Reorganization

Phil Groom writes:

The excerpt copied below is from a notice posted at under Daily Territorial > Bankruptcies > bank 8/3/9 and bank 7/30/9 (h/t asingleblog). Keep reading: there’s more

Third Space Books: A Visual History of Time

Phil Groom writes:

Like so many of the Brewers’ bizarre business dealings, Third Space Books were first brought to our attention by Dave Walker: Third Space Books – the new name for SSG?

I’ve been visiting the site every so often taking screenshots. Here they are in date order. Ignore any dates in the screenshots: the dates I’ve given are the dates on which the shots were taken — even as I write the date displayed on the welcome page is Wednesday, 30 January 2008 and the welcome message is “Wishing you a Blessed Lent and Easter”. Enough said: a picture paints a thousand words and it’s time to let them speak…

June 2008 – Spell check, anyone?

Leichester, 16/06/2008

Leichester, 16/06/2008

November 2008 – Any new messages?

Gmail Login, 21/11/2008

Gmail Login Page, 21/11/2008

December 2008 – Another spell check, anyone?

Worchester, 07/12/2008

Worchester, 07/12/2008

February 2009 – Let’s pretend. Not a screenshot this time, just our heroes faking it in Durham:

As advertised in the Middlesborough Diocesan Year Book 2009

As advertised in the Middlesborough Diocesan Year Book 2009

Looks like someone popped in for a tidy up but had problems with the calendar:

Shop Locations as at 10/02/2009

Shop Locations claimed as at 10/02/2009

August 2009 – the FAQ department seems to sum things up rather well, methinks:

There are no items to display - 08/08/2009

There are no items to display - 08/08/2009

OK, maybe two items. Backwards in time too. Have a blessed Lent and Easter, y’all!

And then there were two...

And then there were two. 09/08/2009 (h/t asingleblog)

Hmmm. Is that blending of the Stars and Stripes with the Union Jack allowed under international law? I guess it must be, knowing the Brewer’s legal team…

Loose Ends and a Lost Cause?

Phil Groom writes:

1. Loose Ends from the Cartoon Competition: Two New Entries

First from Mousey:

From Mousey: There must be countless ways to sort your cistern

From Mousey: There must be countless ways to sort your cistern

Second from our photographer in Durham, a peek inside the abandoned Brewermobile. David Keen said the Brewers were left with no room for manoeuvre, but I can see — OK, let’s not go there. A precaution against swine flu, perhaps?

Phibreman strikes again: Inside the Brewermobile

Phibreman strikes again: Inside the Brewermobile

Thanks guys!

2. A Lost Cause?

OK, perhaps I am unduly pessimistic: perhaps someone does care. Be that as it may, somehow I missed this photo of the Winchester shop window from my last post, but it seems to sum up the state of the place most aptly:

Winchester - Who Cares?

Winchester's Shop Window - Who Cares?