Monthly Archives: December 2009

To all this blog’s friends and supporters, with best wishes for Christmas and the coming year (cross posted)

Phil Groom writes:

THANK YOU to everyone who has taken the time during this past year to visit, comment, or otherwise contribute to either this or the UKCBD blog: it’s been an honour and a privilege working with you.

My gift to you all, a small token of my appreciation, is a goat, courtesy of Farm Africa. Rather than link to the video and risk overloading Farm Africa’s servers (a very real risk given the level of traffic the UKCBD blog has seen recently, especially over over the last month or so), I offer you a few screenshots:

Farm Africa Presents...

Farm Africa Presents... a goat!

... and a goat provides milk.

To all this blog's friends and supporters...

To find out more or to give your own goat, visit Farm Africa for yourself.

Christmas: to us, a child is born: to them, a goat is given. The child is born for them too, of course, for each and every one of us: born into poverty, forced to flee as a refugee, eventually returning to be rejected by his own. But somehow, in that process, setting us free.

There’s no magic, no fairy lights or tinsel on the Cross at the end of the story; but a glimmer of hope in an impossible-to-believe resurrection. I urge you: hold on to that hope. Many here feel broken, betrayed, bereft by what has taken place within our trade over the past year or so … the future remains uncertain, especially for those 26 (0r 27?) shops and their staff for whom there was no room at the Biblica inn and now unceremoniously wiped off the Wesley Owen map; and for those in the Durham Cathedral shop, left out in the cold by the Charity Commission.

And yet … and yet we see signs of hope, most recently in Chichester, where churches came together to save their local Christian bookshop. It can be done; and I hope and pray with you all that we will see more initiatives like this emerging over the coming year.

Grace and peace to you all,

Phil

Wesley Owen Update

Phil Groom writes:

I’ll make this brief, as I expect most of you are up to speed with the Wesley Owen situation. If you aren’t: essentially, the bubble burst on Friday afternoon, 18/12/2009, 5.35pm, when shop staff were notified that their shops were either going into administration (26 branches) or had been sold to CLC (6 branches) / Koorong (8 or 9 branches, plus the website and the brand name).

More info here, Wesley Owen: 26 Branches Enter Administration, Others Sold (Updated), where I’m also compiling a roundup of reports and blog reactions. Dave Walker has also posted on the Church Times blog, Wesley Owen Christian bookshops in administration, and David Green, aka wannabepriest, has posted some interesting reflections here: What now for Christian books in the UK?

Please keep all the staff affected in your prayers. If you live in a town with a branch of Wesley Owen, please call in and tell them you love them. Buy them a big box of chocs or a card or something. If you’re an ex-SPCK bookseller, please take this opportunity to give these guys the moral support you wish you’d had when it was your turn.

Sometime today we’re expecting an official press release. Please leave a comment with a link if you see it before I do…

Chichester Bookshop Reopens

Matt Wardman writes:

A crowd of 60-70 people squeezed into St Olav Christian bookstore at 10:00 am on Saturday 12 December for the opening service led by the Rural Dean for Chichester, Richard Hunt.  The picture shows the crowd beginning to gather, at about 9:55.

Read it all.

Finding Phil Brewer

Phil Groom writes:

A number of suppliers and other creditors have been in touch to say that Phil Brewer is not responding to emails or other business correspondence. That’s his prerogative, of course, and hardly surprising given his shameful record of business practice here in the UK. I remain completely astonished that despite knowing the facts about his abusive treatment of his employees and the utter contempt he has shown towards his business partners, the powers-that-be at Durham Cathedral continue to provide him with a foothold and safe haven from which to operate: he should be summarily evicted.

Be that as it may, however, here’s a summary of the contact information that I have for him. All of this is drawn from publicly available sources, largely from a simple Google search for Philip W Brewer. A search for his brother, J Mark Brewer, is similarly rewarding, but for today, let’s focus on finding Phil:

You’ll find more info, as well as a round up of creditors already paid, here:

So no more excuses: send the man a Christmas card today; and why not drop the powers-that-be at Durham Cathedral a line as well to tell them what you think of the ongoing situation there? A Christmas card for the beleaguered staff at the Cathedral bookshop might go down well too, come to think of it…

Stories of Unpaid Creditors 1: Employment Agency £15.5k

Matt Wardman writes:

We have been highlighting Brewer non-payment of creditors for a long time now, mainly through data about unpaid creditors and more than £1m of debts from the period summer 2007 to summer 2008, which came into the public domain when J Mark Brewer purported to take “Saint Stephen the Great LLC” into Bankruptcy in Texas in 2008.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, however.

Throughout the period 2008/9 the recruitment agency staff were supplied to the latest operating company (ENC Ltd) running the former-SPCK Bookshops, even while the Charity Commission were investigating Brewer mismanagement. As with the previous generation of creditors shafted the year before, invoices were simply not paid. In this case the debt is £15,500.

Thanks to Paul, who left this comment on our “2 week warning” post on December 7th.

We are the recruitment agency that supplied the staff to the Brewers during 2008 / 2009.

Although we had a good working relationship with Philip Brewer at the start we have been left out of pocket to the tune of £15,500.

We thought that supplying staff to a Christian organisation would have been to some extent a “safe bet” only to be proved wrong.

We are an independent agency and losing this amount of money is, as you can imagine a huge blow to us. As we were supplying ENC Shop Management we probbly have no claim from SSG charity.

May I add that throughout this relationship all staff were paid in full every week and no one other than ourselves are out of pocket.

It’s very sad reading through the posts that the Brewers won’t tough up and pay their creditors. Since they are based in the USA we are finding it increasingly difficult to speak with them, but we’re not going to give up.

Our comments:

  1. We applaud that you have treated staff fairly despite the way you have been treated.
  2. Mark and Philip Brewer run a Christian organisation? Yes – like water runs uphill!
  3. They seem to simply ignore words until people give up and go away – and plenty have written debts off, but have been known to respond to embarrassment or legal action. They may be past responding to embarrassment now.
  4. We have no real knowledge of the position of ENC Ltd, or if it has assets which can be recovered – but I think that they will happily stonewall creditors until the cows come home.
  5. The only company that we *know* is trading is that running the Durham Cathedral Shop.


Time to Speak out about Unpaid Brewer Debts

After our letters in the Church papers and The Bookseller last week, we have had some attention in the church and trade press for the tricks and fiddles which have been perpetrated on suppliers by organisations run by J Mark and Philip W Brewer.

In the past suppliers have nearly all kept quiet about how their invoices have just been left hanging for months, or how shops have continued selling the same stock under a new operating company, while the suppliers of the stock have been told to take their invoices away “to the old operator”.

J Mark Brewer’s sworn declaration to the Texas Court revealed £1m+ of unpaid debt from the period summer 2007 to summer 2008.

And yet in 2008 and 2009 a new generation of suppliers were being signed up, fiddled, and left high and dry by a new set of operating companies, with three, four or five figure invoices unpaid, even while the Charity Commission were investigating the previous generation of fiddles.

These are suppliers who are dealing with what they are being told is a “Christian Business”, and/or are part of the ecosystem around the Christian Bookshop trade. We are now focusing on this aspect of this saga.

We are calling on suppliers to write in to the Church Papers or the Bookseller between now and Christmas to outline what has happened, and how you have been treated.

We will be running some accounts and examples here as they come in too, and (we hope) have an interview or two and pass stories on to the media.

We do not think there will be another chance to do this.

Here’s the drill:

  • Keep it short, sharp, snappy and factual. 100-200 words is enough.
  • Make sure that your account is one you are willing to stand behind.
  • We think that most of the Church papers have pulled or edited articles in response to Brewer threats in the past, so if you have controversial things to say, send it to The Bookseller.
  • Cover who you are, what happened, what you are owed, and which business you were dealing with.
  • If you really don’t want to go public, ask them not to reveal your name.
  • Send it to us anyway via this form, and we’ll publish it here too. Please mke clear if you want us to withhold your name, or if your account is not for publication (e.g., if it is evidence of criminal activity).

Find Email Editorial Contacts here:

Chichester Shop Reopening

St Olav Christian Bookshop

St Olav Christian Bookshop, Chichester

Phil Groom writes:

CONGRATULATIONS to Bradley Smith and to the churches and Christian community in Chichester who have joined forces to reopen the former SPCK bookshop at St Olave’s Church, North Street, Chichester.

The shop  — which will be trading under the name St Olav Christian Bookshop — is due to be formally opened at 10am on Saturday 12th December 2009 with a short service of dedication led by the Rural Dean of Chichester. Refreshments will be available throughout the day and the staff  are looking forward to welcoming whoever can get along to join them.

Bradley writes:

Thank you all for your support in recent weeks and months – we have found it very meaningful indeed and we hope we will be able to serve you well in the future. We ask for your prayers for this new venture.

The new shop will be governed by the St Olav Trust, a board of trustees made up of representatives from the different churches in the city. Opening times after the official opening will be:

  • Monday – Friday, 9.30 am – 5.00pm
  • Saturday, 9.00 am – 5.00pm

Now book the date in your diary, bookmark the blog in your browser and head on over there to cheer them on — even better, to do some of your Christmas shopping!!

“Former-SPCK” Creditors: Letters to Church Times, The Bookseller

Matt Wardman writes:

I mentioned in a previous posting that we had written to a number of outlets to publicise the call for Creditors of the former-SPCK bookshop chain, and to raise a number of concerns about the way the brevity of the deadline, and the narrowness of the subset of creditors likely to see a notice placed only in The Bookseller.

Edited versions of our letters have been published in both the Church Times and the Church of England Newspaper, and the full letter in The Bookseller. Christian Marketplace has also carried an article on their website about the Call for Creditors.

We hope, in particular, to start a wider debate in the Book Trade about the nefarious activities of the Messrs Brewer over the last several years, which is long overdue.

In our view, and based on published and unpublished information, a criminal investigation is more than merited.

The Church Times edited out the bits about the deceptive 2008 Bankruptcy attempt in Texas. We are grateful to all publications which carried the letter.

This is the full text of our letter to The Bookseller:

Call for Creditors of Saint Stephen the Great Trust to come forward

Dear Sir

We write as the editors of the SPCK-SSG News Blog (spckssg.wordpress.com). We have been working, with many others, to scrutinise the management of the former-SPCK bookshop chain for 2 years now.

The chain of bookshops was taken over in October/November 2006 by a charity controlled by J Mark Brewer and Philip Brewer, and has been gradually run down since that date.

At least 7 different corporate entities have been used to in managing the chain. These comprise 3 charities (1119839, 1119839-1 and 1109008), 3 private companies (FC028292, FC028290, FC028291), and a Company Limited by Guarantee (06110519); some have similar or identical names, and all were controlled at the outset by various permutations of Brewer family members.

After complaints in 2008, and after a Charity Commission “Section 8” investigation (case ref WTF 1119839/685451), in April this year an “Interim Manager” was appointed to oversee the Saint Stephen the Great charity (1119839), and the Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust ( 1119839-1).

Last week The Bookseller included a notice from the Interim Manager, suggesting that “Creditors who believe that they have a valid claim against the Trustees of St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust incurred before 1 July 2007, should write to the Interim Manager at Begbies Traynor (Central) LLP, 32 Cornhill, London EC3V 3BT under ref S8703 before the close of business on 16 December 2009.” This notice causes us several concerns.

As far as we are aware the notice has only been published in The Bookseller, while the SPCK chain was a business with worldwide links. SPCK creditors may include English Cathedrals, communion wine suppliers, development charities, craft businesses, religious communities in the UK and overseas and others. How can such a range of creditors can be realistically expected to respond to a notice with a 3 week deadline in a booktrade magazine, posted up to 3 years after the relevant debts were incurred?

In summer 2008, J Mark Brewer attempted to take an organisation, which he called “St Stephen the Great, LLC”, into bankruptcy in the South Texas Bankruptcy Court (case 08-33689-H1). His court submission failed to identify the UK bookshops under his control, but did provide a substantially accurate listing of unpaid debts which had arisen over the previous 12 months. This included several hundred creditors, and more than £1m of debts. This case was subsequently dismissed “with prejudice”, and Mr Brewer – himself a lawyer and former Congressional Candidate – required to pay a penalty and take remedial education in the area of Legal Ethics. Under the quoted cutoff date of July 2007, many debts identified in these court submissions may be ruled out of a possible settlement.

We encourage all potential creditors to get in touch with the Interim Manager using the contact details in the notice, and/or those given on the Charity Commission site; these are stsgct@gothamerskine.co.uk via email, or by phone on 020 7490 1880.

We also hope that specific contact will be made with creditors identified in the Court Documents, who are potential creditors even within the restricted period, and that the deadline for responses will be extended to a more realistic date.

Yours etc

Phil Groom. Editor, UK Christian Bookshops Directory, christianbookshops.org.uk
Matt Wardman, SPCK-SSG News Blog, spckssg.wordpress.com


And our letter to the Church Times:

Call for Creditors of Saint Stephen the Great Trust to come forward

Dear Sir

First of all we must thank the Interim Manager appointed to oversee the Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust, and Saint Stephen the Great, charities for his work in “stopping the rot” in the former-SPCK bookshop chain, and recovering the shops (Durham Cathedral Bookshop excepted) from Philip and J Mark Brewer. At least we are now on the way *out* of the woods.

However, we note that last week The Bookseller trade magazine included a notice from the Interim Manager of the Saint Stephen the Great Trust, suggesting that “Creditors who believe that they have a valid claim against the Trustees of St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust incurred before 1 July 2007, should write to the Interim Manager at Begbies Traynor (Central) LLP, 32 Cornhill, London EC3V 3BT under ref S8703 before the close of business on 16 December 2009.” This causes us some concerns.

We have been working to scrutinise the mismanagement of the former-SPCK bookshop chain for more than 2 years now, and we are concerned by several aspects of the statement made by the Interim Manager.

The Interim Manager is completely right that this whole affair has been made fearsomely complex by the use by J Mark and Philip Brewer of at least 7 different corporate entities to obfuscate their actions over the last 3 years. These comprise 3 charities (1119839, 1119839-1 and 1109008), 3 private companies (FC028292, FC028290, FC028291), and a Company Limited by Guarantee (06110519), some of which have similar or identical names, and all controlled by various permutations of Brewer family members. There was also an 8th alleged corporate entity, SSG LLC, which appeared in J Mark Brewer’s sworn submissions to the South Texas Bankruptcy Court in summer 2008, but which turned out to exist only in his imagination.

The USDAW Employment Tribunal action, which was settled out of court earlier this year, was impeded by this complexity, and a lack of clarity as to which entity J Mark and Philip Brewer were acting on behalf of at different times, whether their actions at each point were legal or not, and their peculiar reluctance to keep written records. In the end USDAW had to name three separate bodies as respondents because it was not clear which entity employed and managed different members of staff at different points in time. If the Interim Manager had not commendably reached a negotiated settlement, this Tribunal would be going round in ever-decreasing circles even now.

The notice as published seeks creditors of “St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust”, without identifying a specific charity number, and restricts the call to debts incurred before the end of June 2007. Given the confused governance and business relationships, we suggest that the Interim Manager needs to cast a far wider net, at least initially.

We are also concerned that the deadline for responses to the notice has been set for December 16th. The SPCK bookshop chain was a business with worldwide links, and the range of creditors may well include Cathedrals owed rent, communion wine suppliers, development charities, craft businesses, religious communities in Eastern Europe, a consulting engineer used to design an improvement scheme, and others. All of these creditor groups appear in the 2008 Texas court documents referred to above, and – despite the 2008 bankruptcy attempt having been fraudulent – we have found the records of debtors declared to be largely accurate.

We are a little baffled as to how such a range of creditors can be realistically expected to respond to a notice with a 3 week deadline in a Booktrade Magazine, posted up to 3 years after the relevant debts were incurred. Also, would a single notice adequately meet legal requirements where such a wide range of creditors are affected?

So we urge all creditors, and potential creditors, to get in touch with the Interim Manager using the contact details in the notice, and/or those given on the Charity Commission site, which are stsgct@gothamerskine.co.uk via email, or by phone on 020 7490 1880.

We have done what we can to bring wider attention to the published notice, but we hope that specific contact will be made with the hundreds of suppliers identified in the Court Documents, who are potential creditors even within the period before June 2007. Any debts before this date would be in addition to the more than £1m of debts identified in the 2008 Court submissions.

We also hope that the deadline for responses will be extended to a more realistic period, perhaps to the end of January 2010.

Yours etc

Phil Groom. Editor, UK Christian Bookshops Directory, christianbookshops.org.uk
Matt Wardman, SPCK-SSG News Blog, spckssg.wordpress.com
Simon Barrow, Co-Director, Ekklesia, ekklesia.co.uk


Debts of the former SPCK bookshop chain: Church Times letter

Matt Wardman writes:

We have a  letter published in the Church Times this week about the former SPCK bookshop chain. Kudos to the CT for putting it outside the paywall, where everyone can see it.

A fuller version, with a few points about the J Mark Brewer attempt (known to us as the Great Texan Wild Goose Chase) to dodge debts by putting a sort-of conflation of various bits of his organisations into Bankruptcy in South Texas, declaring lots of debts but none of the assets, is in this week’s Bookseller – but they don’t always put letters online.

Debts of the former SPCK bookshop chain

From Mr Phil Groom and others

Sir,

We must thank the Interim Manager appointed to oversee the Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust, and Saint Stephen the Great, charities for his work in stopping the rot in the former SPCK bookshop chain, and recovering the shops (Durham Cathedral Bookshop excepted) from Philip and J. Mark Brewer. At least we are now on the way out of the woods.

We note, however, the notice from him in The Bookseller last week suggesting that creditors “who believe that they have a valid claim against the Trustees of St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust incurred before 1 July 2007” should write to him at: The Interim Manager, Begbies Traynor (Central) LLP, 32 Cornhill, London EC3V 3BT, under “ref. S8703” before the close of business on 16 December.

This causes us some concerns. The Interim Manager is completely right that this whole affair has been made fearsomely complex by the use by J. Mark and Philip Brewer of at least seven different corporate entities over the past three years. These comprise three charities, three private companies, and a company limited by guarantee, some of which have similar or identical names, and all controlled by various permuta­tions of the Brewer family members.

The notice as published seeks creditors of “St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust”, without identifying a specific charity number, and restricts the call to debts incurred before the end of June 2007. Given the confused governance and business relation­ships, we suggest that the Interim Manager needs to cast a far wider net, at least initially.

We are also concerned about the deadline for responses. The SPCK bookshop chain was a business with worldwide links, and the range of creditors may well include cathed­rals, communion-wine suppliers, development charities, craft busi­nesses, religious communities in Eastern Europe, a consulting engineer, and others. All of these creditor groups appeared in Texas court documents in 2008.

We urge all creditors, and potential creditors, to get in touch with the Interim Manager using the contacts in the notice, and/or those given on the Charity Commission site stsgct@gothamerskine.co.uk, via email, or by phone on 020 7490 1880.

We hope that a specific contact will be made with the hundreds of suppliers identified in the court documents. We also hope that the deadline for responses will be extended to a more realistic period, perhaps to the end of January 2010.

PHIL GROOM
MATT WARDMAN
SIMON BARROW

Concerns about call for SPCK/SSG Creditors

Matt Wardman writes:

Following on from our previous posting about the call for creditors of the Saint Stehen the Great Charitable Trust to come forward within the next 2 weeks, only if they know that they are owed money from before July 2007, we have written to relevant magazines raising these concerns:

  • The complexity of the history of this whole affair, and the deliberate obfuscation introducd by the Messrs Brewer,  makes it very difficult for potential creditors to know whether they come within the restrictions laid down, or not.
  • As far as we are aware, the notice has only been published in The Bookseller, while the SPCK chain was a business with worldwide links – far beyond the book trade.
  • How can such a range of creditors can be realistically expected to respond to a notice with a 3 week deadline in a booktrade magazine, posted up to 3 years after the relevant debts were incurred?
  • Does this adequately meet legal requirements for informing creditors?

We are not publishing the full text of the letters here until after they have been published in the magazines and newspapers concerned, for obvious reasons.

We have not raised several further points, because we are not sure ourselves what difference they make, and would make our letters even longer than they are already:

Interim Manager's Notice

  1. The Interim Manager is in control of the two charities “Saint Stephen the Great”(1119839), and “Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust” (1119839-1).
  2. The Charity Commission website states that he controls the former, and he has himself declared himself to be in control of the latter when claiming possession of shops.
  3. These charities were forcibly merged by the Charity Commission around 23 July 2007.

So what is the basis for taking responsibility for actions of one charity only? Shouldn’t creditors of both of these charities be able to seek redress for debts incurred over a far greater period of time?

In any case:

  • Given the complexity, and lack of clarity, in this history, all creditors, and potential creditors, should get in touch with the Interim Manager using the contact details in the notice, and/or those given on the Charity Commission site; these are stsgct@gothamerskine.co.uk via email, or by phone on 020 7490 1880.
  • We hope that specific contact will be made with the hundreds of suppliers identified in the Court Documents, who are potential creditors even within the period before July 2007.
  • We also hope that the deadline for responses will be extended to a more realistic period, perhaps to the end of January 2010.

There may be more, as and when we have (or understand) it.