Author Archives: Phil Groom

Charity Commission releases report on the SPCK/SSG Bookshops

Saint Stephen the Great: Charity Commission inquiry

IT’S TAKEN A LONG, LONG TIME but today the Charity Commission has at last issued its assessment of the Brewer brothers’ gross mishandling of the former SPCK Bookshops.

The nine page report (available here) fails to identify the Brewers by name but nonetheless makes damning reading as it brings to light huge irregularities in a wide-ranging and complex inquiry that examined four specific areas:

  • Conflict of interest/loyalty, trustee benefit and self-dealing
  • Exposure to financial liability of the company and the trust
  • Bankruptcy proceedings in the United States of America
  • Potential damage to public trust and confidence

After a brief introduction to the Saint Stephen the Great Trust and Company, the report  identifies the issues under investigation, summarises the Commission’s findings, reviews the interim manager’s activities and findings, and draws the following conclusions:

The interim manager concluded that the trustees had mismanaged the trust. There were unmanaged conflicts of interest and loyalty related to directorships of associated companies and contracts entered into by some of the trustees.

The inquiry considered that some conflicts were so intrinsically linked to the trust’s administration that they could not be managed. The inquiry was concerned that the trustees’ lack of ability to manage conflicts of interest and loyalty arising from their involvement in connected organisations could lead them to consider it appropriate to use the trust’s funds to satisfy the liabilities of the other entities.

The inquiry highlighted poor governance, lack of due diligence and inadequate record keeping on the part of the trust trustees and the company directors. Trustees are under a duty to be prudent with the charity’s assets, the lack of prudence in this case and the lack of trustee awareness of their responsibilities has led to the demise of the trust and the company.

The interim manager concluded that it would be expensive and risky for the trust to restart managing the shops. There was no prospect of new trustees wishing to manage the trust and no evidence that beneficiaries or interested parties wished the trust to continue. It was in the trust’s best interest for it to be wound up with surplus assets transferred to charities with similar objectives.

The inquiry concluded that there had been serious mismanagement and misconduct of the trust and company by the trustees.

It then goes on to outline the extent, cost and impact of the Commission’s regulatory action, briefly noting the vast sums involved:

Trust assets of £3,226,100 were safeguarded by the appointment of the interim manager and claims of £4,171,710 were managed. £1,928,853 was disbursed in settlement of claims and £144,486 was disbursed to Orthodox communities.

Finally, the report considers issues for the wider sector, highlighting lessons to be learned from the failings noted and highlighting the duties and responsibilities of charity trustees, who must always:

  • act only in the best interests of the charity
  • actively manage actual or potential conflicts of interest
  • familiarise themselves with the appropriate legal requirements and take professional advice
  • keep proper accounting records and an adequate audit trail

Sadly, as well as failing to name those responsible for this Christian book trade disaster, the report also fails to consider the human cost for those caught up in it — the distress, hardship and misery caused to so many — noting only that “Thirty four of the shops’ ex-employees submitted redundancy claims” and that “Settlement of the redundancy claims from ex-shop employees was made and claims were paid in 2009 and 2010.”

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Final settlement with SSG worth “over a million pounds” (updated 12/10/2013)

SPCK Trustees' Report and Accounts for the year ended 30th April 2013 (pdf, 1.7mb)

SPCK Trustees’ Report and Accounts for the year ended 30th April 2013 (pdf, 1.7mb)

THE FINAL SETTLEMENT between SPCK and the Brewers/SSG was worth “over a million pounds” according to the Rt Revd John Pritchard in his Chair’s Overview in the Society’s 2013 Annual Report. This income, he continues, has strengthened SPCK’s “overall financial position” and enabled them to support the pension fund set up for former shop workers. He also acknowledges that it has been a painful process, particularly for those workers:

The very long legal struggle with the Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSGCT) has finally been concluded with a settlement involving the value of the remaining shop freeholds, which were already in the process of being sold or prepared for sale. This represented over a million pounds, which has strengthened our overall financial position and is helping us to support the Designated Fund dedicated to paying into the pension scheme that was operating in the days of the shops. We are very glad to have brought this difficult matter to a conclusion at last. It has been painful for everybody, and particularly for the staff of our former shops. The settlement is good news for SPCK and good news for the church.

Update, 12/10/2013: AGM Records Vote of Thanks

The following note has now been posted on the SPCK news page as part of the Society’s AGM report:

We reached a resolution with Saints Stephen the Great Charitable Trust and the million pounds recovered will help to strengthen the pension fund to the benefit of our former bookshop staff who were in the scheme.  The valuable service which the SPCK shops gave to the Church and to their communities over many years was acknowledged with a vote of thanks and appreciation to all those who had been part of this ministry.

Freeholds Reclaimed, Disbursements and Pension Fund top-ups promised as SPCK settle dispute with SSG

IT’S BEEN A SLOW TRAIN COMING, but SPCK have at long last drawn a line under their long-running legal dispute with SSG, the charity set up by Phil & Mark Brewer to run, but which ultimately ruined, the the former SPCK bookshops. In a news bulletin posted yesterday, Friday 14th September 2012 — just short of six years since the original handover of the shops to SSG was announced — SPCK declared that it had “finally concluded” the matter with “a predicated settlement involving the return of some shop freeholds or their realised value” and further anticipated “substantial disbursements – as yet unquantified – and legal costs which will be clarified in the coming months.”

Describing the settlement, Simon Kingston went on to say,

In particular, SPCK is committed to paying substantial sums into the fund relating to the pension which was operating in the days of the shops.

Congratulations must be made to Simon in particular for his quiet determination and persistence in pursuing this matter to a conclusion. The damage done by the Brewer brothers can never be undone but most of those who suffered at their hands should now be able to begin to look forward to a brighter future and, hopefully, some measure of restitution.

SPCK News: SPCK Legal Dispute Concluded

SPCK News: SPCK Legal Dispute Concluded

Full Statement: SPCK Legal Dispute Concluded

SPCK is pleased to announce that it has finally concluded its long legal dispute with Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust. Simon Kingston, CEO and General Secretary, says: “We are very glad to have brought this difficult matter to a conclusion at last. It has been painful for everybody, and particularly for the staff of our former shops. We therefore welcome the news that SSGCT is unlikely to continue as a charity.

“We are now in a better position to focus all our energies on our core aim of bringing knowledge of the Christian faith to the whole world.”

As part of the agreement, SPCK receives a predicated settlement involving the return of some shop freeholds or their realised value. This will be reflected in SPCK’s annual accounts. However, we anticipate substantial disbursements – as yet unquantified – and legal costs which will be clarified in the coming months.

“Funds from this settlement will be vital at a time that is so challenging financially,” said Mr Kingston. “In particular, SPCK is committed to paying substantial sums into the fund relating to the pension which was operating in the days of the shops.”

The Rt Revd John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford, Chair of SPCK, also welcomed the announcement. “This is good news for SPCK and good news for the Church. Now that this is resolved, SPCK can look to the future with confidence.

“And there is plenty to celebrate. Last year, for example, SPCK gave away 12,000 International Study Guides to students training for ministry in some of the poorest parts of the world. Closer to home, the (free) Assemblies website had 37 million hits, and the charity sold over a third of a million books in the UK and another 300,000 overseas. There are more exciting developments in hand for 2012, including the launch of resources supporting literacy in prisons.”

 

Philip Brewer files for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in California

US Bankruptcy Court, Central District of California: Notice of Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Case, Meeting of Creditors, & Deadlines

US Bankruptcy Court, Central District of California: Notice of Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Case, Meeting of Creditors, & Deadlines

PHILIP BREWER has filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in California, Case No. 9:11-bk-14384-PC.

The Bankruptcy Notice states that a Meeting of Creditors is scheduled to take place at 10am, Oct 17, 2011, at 128 East Carillo St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101.

The deadline given for filing objections to Debtor’s Discharge or to Challenge Dischargeability of Certain Debts is Dec 16, 2011; and the deadline to Object to Exemptions is thirty days after the conclusion of the meeting of creditors.

Reverse of Notice: Explanations

Reverse of Notice: Explanations

The reverse of the notice provides important explanations including advice to creditors with foreign (ie non-USA) addresses, who should consult a lawyer familiar with United States bankruptcy law if they have any queries about their rights in this case. It also gives other important information about certain actions that creditors are prohibited from taking, such as contacting the debtor to demand payment or taking action to collect money/obtain property.


Disclaimer: This post is for information only and does not constitute any form of legal advice.

The sad and empty shell of the former SPCK Christian Bookshop, Chester

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Photo posted on Flickr by majestik_12, Rob Poulson, 27 March 2011:

Former SPCK Bookshop in Chester, 27/03/2011

Former SPCK Bookshop in Chester, 27/03/2011

Sad to see the shop still sitting there like this more than a year after the removals fairies struck back in January 2010…

Durham Cathedral Bookshop: One door closes…

Durham Cathedral Shop: Due to some necessary archaeological works, as we explore ways to improve physical access to The Cathedral Shop, this entrance is temporarily closed...

Durham Cathedral Shop - this entrance is temporarily closed...

Phil Groom writes:

One door closes — but will another one open? Christians love to talk about God’s provision and guidance, don’t they? About how one door may close but another one will always open, yadda yadda yadda… but the reality that we must all face is that by and large, God has entrusted that provision to us, his people. It’s God’s people who close doors and it’s God’s people who open them. It’s God’s people who shut people out, let people in or, sometimes, lock people up and forget where they left the key…

This notice, which appeared towards the end of January at the shop entrance in Durham Cathedral, begins:

Due to some necessary archaeological works, as we explore ways to improve physical access to The Cathedral Shop, this entrance is temporarily closed. Entry to The Cathedral Shop is through the easy access off The College which can be found by following the disabled signage…

That’s no bad thing and I’m not for one moment suggesting that it is: improving access to the shop is good news, especially if it means that disabled people don’t have to take that longwinded route to get there. Bravo, those planners! Nor am I suggesting that there are plans afoot to close the shop, although one little bird (not a member of your staff, please note, O Most Venerable Dean, should you happen to read this) tells me that there are plans to reduce the size of the shop, which might well impact upon staffing requirements — and that, given all the uncertainty and door-slamming that the shop staff have faced over the past few years, is most definitely not good news for anyone.

Let’s look back briefly: first the bookshop staff were, not to put too fine a point on it, betrayed by SPCK when the shop was handed over to the Brewers without adequate diligence (please don’t anyone try to tell me that the “due diligence procedure” SPCK went through in that disastrous handover was adequate). Then when it all went pear-shaped what, pray, did the Dean and Chapter do to help and support the staff? Ah yes: they prayed; no doubt about that, I’m sure. Prayed and panicked and prevaricated because God had put the means to answer those prayers in their own hands; but terminating the lease apparently proved too hot a potato: instead, they dropped it, leaving the bookshop staff to resist the bullying and abuse by themselves…

Eventually, of course, the Brewers’ mismanagement backfired as the Charity Commission moved in on the other shops to leave Durham as the last bastion of the Brewers’ bastardised British empire; and finally that, too, came tumbling down…

Enough of the history lesson, however: where are we today? This former SPCK bookshop — once described by no less a scholar than Professor James D G Dunn as “the best theological bookshop in the world” — appears destined to become little more than yet another Cathedral tat and gift shop, books sidelined to leave the City of Durham, home to the world-renowned Shrine of St Cuthbert, without a Christian bookshop worthy of the name. The Cathedral’s own description of the shop seems to say it all:

The Durham Cathedral Shop stocks a range of guide books, gifts and souvenirs, as well as a selection of religious and theological books.

Screenshot, 10/2/2011: The Cathedral Book and Gift Shop: Books sidelined?

The Cathedral Book and Gift Shop: Books sidelined?

And what of the staff? Where does this leave them after the years of abuse and neglect? In today’s world no job is secure, of course, but one would hope that having at last secured the shop for the Cathedral’s own use, the Cathedral authorities would set out to support, reassure and — dare I suggest such a radical idea? — perhaps even reward the staff for their loyalty and commitment to the Cathedral. Because that is assuredly what has kept them there: personal dedication to the cause.

Durham Cathedral Shop staff: I salute you!

May those who have been entrusted with power to open and close doors before you always do so with the fairness, integrity and respect that becomes a renowned Christian institution; may charlatans such as the Brewers never darken your doorways again; and when your closed door reopens, may it open the way to good things and happier times for all.

Durham Cathedral | Durham Cathedral on facebook

2010: SPCK/SSG Blog Overview

Phil Groom writes:

THANK YOU to the stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com for the following snapshot summary of how this blog did in 2010; but EVEN BIGGER THANKS to you, its readers, without whose involvement it would all be dust and ashes. I guess the good news is that those money-grubbing scoundrels, Messrs Phil Brewer and J Mark Brewer, no longer have their snouts in the trough since it all turned to dust and ashes in their mouths, although Phil Brewer still has the audacity to brag about his involvement in the whole sorry story as if it were some sort of success. Nuff said: here’s the breakdown from 2010:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy Numbers

Featured image

About 3 million people visit the Taj Mahal every year. This blog was viewed about 34,000 times in 2010. If it were the Taj Mahal, it would take about 4 days for that many people to see it.

In 2010, there were 17 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 278 posts. There were 17 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 4mb. That’s about a picture per month.

The busiest day of the year was January 22nd with 418 views. The most popular post that day was Removals Fairies Strike at former SPCK Bookshop, Chester.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were christianbookshops.org.uk, christianbookshopsblog.org.uk, facebook.com, mattwardman.com, and twitter.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for proposal to strike off, spck ssg, spck, active – proposal to strike off, and gemstar exeter.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Removals Fairies Strike at former SPCK Bookshop, Chester January 2010
28 comments

2

SSG at Companies House: “Status: Active – Proposal to Strike off” January 2009
14 comments

3

Final Former-SPCK Bookshop Expels Philip Brewer: Durham Cathedral January 2010
37 comments

4

Durham: Cathedral Shop Reopens March 2010
24 comments

5

A Tangled Web for Creditors as Durham Cathedral announces plans to Re-Open Shop under its own Management February 2010
36 comments