Durham Cathedral Shop Employees win Redundancy Payout

This news is very much of the ‘we were tipped into a swamp and lost nearly everything, but we escaped the alligators with our lives after each losing half a leg’ variety, but the staff at Durham Cathedral Shop have – 4 years after the saga to which this blog is devoted kicked off – received some more good news.

It has been ruled that when the staff of the Durham Cathedral Shop were thrown out of their jobs in January 2010, it constituted redundancy and unfair dismissal.

Since Mark and Phil Brewer have done a vanishing trick after running the business into the ground (don’t forget that Phil Brewer used the shop to fund his Trotter-Trading Yellow private aeroplane, and that hundreds of thousands of pounds simply went missing), the Judge rules that payment can be made from State funds.

I should also say that this decision was by a previous shop management, and the shop – and particularly the staff – deserve full support.

Employment Tribunal Report

An Employment Tribunal held on Wednesday 24th August 2011 in Newcastle, and this is a report of the proceedings.

“A sorry tale which has been going on for some time has now come to this.”

The opening comment by Mr Jim Shepherd, Employment Judge, at the Employment Tribunal held on Wednesday 24th August 2011 in Newcastle, between the claimants, the staff of the Durham Cathedral Shop, and the Durham Cathedral Shop Management Company and the Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills.

The start of the tale was on 22nd January 2010, when the staff of the Durham Cathedral Shop were all dismissed. The shop was one of the 23 SPCK Bookshops taken over in 2006 by the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust run by American brothers, Mark and Phil Brewer. In 2008 the Durham shop’s management transferred to the Durham Cathedral Shop Management Company, a new company set up by the Brewer brothers. By January 2010 Durham was the only shop remaining under their control, and was a poor shadow of the flagship shop it had been in SPCK days. Phil Brewer contacted the staff and said the company had financial difficulties and he needed to talk to the Cathedral Chapter. On 22nd January 2010 the staff were summoned by the Chapter Clerk, following his discussion with Phil Brewer, and were told the shop was to close immediately. The staff received no written notice of dismissal, were not consulted in accordance with UK employment law and did not receive wages due to them, severance payment nor redundancy payment.

The staff were represented by Sara Devennie, of Beecham & Peacock, Newcastle solicitors, who were instructed by the trade union USDAW, of which all the staff are members. Beecham & Peacock received no fee for this work as part of their on-going commitment to a number of trade unions to fight for the rights of workers.

The Tribunal were presented with the detailed and complicated facts of the case, and ruled that it was unfair dismissal and redundancy. The Secretary of State’s office had investigated the solvency of the Durham Cathedral Shop Management Company and stated it was not insolvent and was still registered as a company, with the registered trading address as the Durham Cathedral Shop. However, the Tribunal Judge stated he felt it unlikely that any money would be forthcoming from the USA.

By ruling that redundancy had occurred, the Judge legalised the claim for state redundancy payments to be made by the Secretary of State. Payments of between £2,000 and £11,000 were awarded to the staff.

The Durham Cathedral Shop, under the management of Durham Cathedral, re-opened on 1st March 2010, and all of the former staff have been re-employed by Durham Cathedral.

That is excellent news, and congratulations go especially to the one member of staff who persevered with the claim. Perhaps ways can now finally be found to look forward at Durham.

Remaining Questions

There are still some very serious questions around the whole SPCK saga, which I hope will be addressed somehow.

The Brewers still deserve to be brought to book for offences committed throughout the last several years. These include the magically vanishing funds from Durham Cathedral Shop mentioned above.

But there is also the small matter of money specifically given for the support of Christian Bookselling in Newcastle, and placed in a separate fund withing SPCK after the sale of the Bible House Bookshop, part of which seems to have been misappropriated during the time of Management by the Brewer Brothers after SPCK agreed to provide funds.

Specifically, monies were passed to the Brewers for improvements to the premises of SPCK Newcastle which – as far as we are aware – were never carried out. The sum involved was 5 figures. [Update: more detail in the comments.]

Questions around the Governance of SPCK itself, and decisions made.

And the whole question of who is going to learn which lessons from this whole Godawful Mess, and whether they actually have been learned?

Stand Up SPCK Up


Reports Elsewhere…

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31 responses to “Durham Cathedral Shop Employees win Redundancy Payout

  1. Valiant for Truth

    Fortunately not all of the Newcastle funds were misapproriated by the Brewers as a sum was held by SPCK in a Trust Fund.

  2. Puzzled by the penultimate para in the report:

    By ruling that redundancy had occurred, the Judge legalised the claim for state redundancy payments to be made to the Secretary of State. Payments of between £2,000 and £11,000 were awarded to the staff.

    Should that be “payments to be made by the Secretary of State”?

    Was anything said about culpability/liability of the Cathedral/Chapter? In my book, they are liable all the way for colluding with the Brewers, for failing to take action to evict them, and for failing in their duty of care to workers in the Cathedral.

  3. Valiant for Truth

    By the Secretary of State is correct. The Cathedral were not mentioned except in that they closed the shop following their discussions with Phil Brewer.

  4. mattwardman2000

    We’ve always – I think – held off writing about this one, but perhaps it needs some attention from some people in Newcastle.

    My understanding is that a special fund – the Bible House fund – was set up from the sale of the Bible House shop which merged into SPCK several years ago, and that 300k-ish was put into the fund to support the sale of Bibles in Newcastle. The balance of the sale proceeds went into General Funds.

    The 2008 SPCK accounts (http://www.charity-commission.gov.uk/Accounts/Ends44%5C0000231144_AC_20080430_E_C.PDF) Section 14 page 24 show £30k of that fund being spent.

    My *understanding* is that it was given to Messrs Brewer to pay for improvements to the premises, and that certain verbal ‘pressure’ was applied by the Messrs Brewer to encourage the payment, but that the works were never done.

    That money went somewhere.

    Where? (I hear the Dallas theme-tune playing in my head).

    The shop premises are still sitting where they always were, and unless they have been removed since I looked the plans are still on the council website, including the details of the engineers who were consulted for the project, so it should be checkable.

    I seem to recall that the Bankruptcy Documents included an invoice owing to those engineers.

    Perhaps someone in Newcastle might like to dig a little further?

    Or maybe this is One Dead Horse too far.

  5. Well done, the one member of staff who persevered and showed courage.

  6. Good news. I’m especially pleased for those who have supported this cause and continue to do so.

  7. I’m with Larry. The figures in the newspaper report are misleading. Far as I know Durham Cathedral Shop Management Company is still registered as a going concern. Maybe the figures relate to that? But then again the figures are not as important.

  8. mattwardman2000

    I should add congratulations to all the staff for the result, but it was only one who pursued the case through.

    And thanks to Sara Devennie and Beecham & Peacock (I love the names of solicitors’ firms!) for working pro bono.

  9. Valiant for Truth

    A number of former SPCK staff are commenting on Facebook about their pensions as they have heard nothing recently from the Church of England Pensions Board. Some who have retired recently have received full entitlement with a message from the Board that they would not be made to suffer because of the actions of the Brewers. The Board did contact the Interim Managers as a Creditor and rightly so as they should also not suffer because of the actions of the Brewers. HMRC were also major creditors of the SSG scenario.

  10. Valiant for Truth

    Try via Phil Groom, UKCBD or Christian Bookshops UK (Helen McCabe)

  11. Valiant for Truth

    Someone just remarked to me on the comment the Dean of Durham made on 22nd January 2010 when the shop was closed, and this comment was part of the Tribunal evidence. Quote “A sad time for the Cathedral…” Yes, but an even sadder time for six staff who had just lost their jobs and that should have been the first concern.

  12. Updated above with links to reports elsewhere…

  13. Valiant for Truth

    Someone remarked this morning that ordinary folk reading the North East newspapers, and not knowing the background, will see Durham Cathedral Shop Management Company and assume it means Durham Cathedral. Do the Cathedral want people to think it belongs to them? The Brwers obviously have not removed the company from the Companies House register, and the Secretary of State therefore assumes it exists and is solvent as was stated at the Tribunal. Were the Cathedral to write to Companies House to say that the registered address of the company is Durham Cathedral but they know it is no longer based there, would that not alert all concerned to the fact of its demise and possibly even hasten its formal demise – one more Brewer identity eliminated?

  14. Apparently today`s (Newcastle) Journal gives a much less optimistic picture on the payments likely to be handed out to the shop`s staff.

  15. That Journal article is a good one. Sums of money were bandied about too easily in the headlines of the other newspapers. I’m not sure about getting Brewer to remove his company. Will that mean that the other people he owes money to (like the Newcastle employment agency) will lose out? I’m just asking.

  16. Valiant for Truth

    The Newcastle Employment Agency should have been able to apply as creditors to the Interim Managers as creditors of ENC, unlike Durham Cathedral re their unpaid rent from the Brewrs.

  17. Valiant for Truth

    If anyone is wishing to contact Phil Brewer they can do so via his website http://philbrewer.com

  18. mattwardman2000

    I love Mr Phil’s:

    “Developed flat world approach to management structure for flexibility and cost savings.”

    Flat world? ROFL

  19. We’ve been here before guys.

  20. Valiant for Truth

    Yes, but we now have new followers plus those who need to be reminded. There is a lot of anger re the Durham Tribunal that the Brewers escape and the UK tax payers cough up.

  21. Valiant for Truth

    Article in “Church Times” of 2nd September and interesting it states the shop is in temporary premises

  22. Church Times article is wholly and technically correct.

  23. Can someone email me the text or a pic.

  24. Valiant for Truth

    There is a suspicion that the shops that were due to become the property of the Brewers in 2013, including Newcastle, will remain empty until that time because a proper legal battle cannot commence until the year arrives and it is obvious that the Brewers are not running Christian bookshops in the premises. The law is an ass. People everywhere are making the comment that it’s wonderful that the Durham staff have won the legal battle, but as with everything else that has happened, the crime is that the Brewers have escaped without really being dealt with and made to pay. Let us hope and pray that the continuing litigation does bring some justice.

  25. Valiant for Truth

    Interesting thought – what would have happened in October 2006 if all the bookshops staff had then been USDAW members and USDAW had been involved in the TUPE transfer?

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