Category Archives: Advice

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In our view, and based on published and unpublished information, a criminal investigation is more than merited.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


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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

SPCK/SSG Creditors have 2 weeks to Act (Updated)

Matt Wardman writes:
This advert appeared in this week’s Bookseller.
Note that you only have about a fortnight to write in.
ST STEPHEN THE GREAT CHARITABLE TRUST

This charity has been in the press over recent years as a result of concerns expressed over its operations. In April 2009 the Charity Commission appointed Peter Gotham of Begbies Traynor as Interim Manager to take over its running – other than with respect to its religious mission in the churches it controls. This objective was made more complicated by virtue of the fact that since July 2007 the shops previously operated by the charity were managed instead by other companies appointed by the Trustees. The Interim Manager has now completed his initial work, has retaken possession of most shops, and is moving towards meeting valid claims on the charity’s assets. In order to do this he has instructed agents to put various of the Trust’s properties on sale. He is now advertising for creditors’ claims incurred before 1 July 2007 in order to ensure that no valid claims go unmet. (Any claims incurred after 1 July 2007 will be the responsibility of the various companies engaged by the Trustees.)
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.
Presented by: Begbies Traynor (Central) LLP
Presenter’s Reference: S8703/PJG/NGA/BRS
———————————————————————————-
Editorial Note: I am not at all convinced by the cut-off date, though, without seeing rock-solid evidence. For example, Mark Brewer was reported by the Bookseller as acting for SSG in November 2007 when the chain dropped the SPCK name.

And which external companies were responsible for running the shops after 1 July 2007? The company which seems to have been responsible for running most of them – ENC Shop Management Ltd – was not registered at Companies House until 11 March 2008

Groups such as the Church of England Pensions’ Board and various government agencies, and other creditors, need to take a close look at this.

And you only have 2 weeks to do so.
[Update: 27/9/1009.
We have been in touch with the interim Manager’s team during the afternoon.
The reason why responsibility is accepted for debts incurred before 1 July 2007 is that the Interim Manager was appointed to manage the “St Stephen the Great Trust” (no 1119839) charity, while a separate  charity – a Company Limited by Guarantee – had been created to manage the bookshops. The Interim Manager was not appointed to manage this Company Limited by Guarantee, and so they are not accepting reponsibility for debts incurred by this Company.
Editorial note: This is all horribly complicated, and we will try and submit a list of detailed questions to the Interim Manager and the Charity Commission over the weekend.  The Company Limited by Guarantee was merged with the parent charity (no 1119839) by direction of the Charity Commission on 27 July 2007 – see the “subsidiary charities” page on the link above, so it is not clear to us how the Interim Manager is entirely not responsible for actions of this charity.
In the meantime, there is an email address for the Interim Manager on the Charity Commission website, where you can send your precise queries.
My brain still hurts.]


Do we need an Anglican Books Forum?

Matt Wardman writes:

This is not within the strict remit of the SPCK campaign group, but we are a network including booksellers, readers, authors, publishers and all manner of interested parties – so I thought I would run a flag up the flagpole.

Future of Church House Publishing

Phil Groom has posted about a decision to hand over Church House Publishing, currently owned by the Archbishops’ Council which is the Church of England “Cabinet”, to the Hymns Ancient & Modern company:

The Archbishops’ Council is in discussion with Hymns Ancient & Modern with a view to outsourcing the Council’s publishing services. The proposed agreement would maintain the Council’s long-term commitment to publishing liturgy, key reference titles and other resources for the Church.

Clearly the SPCK/Brewer experience has caused us to realise that the people who will get hurt – if anyone does – who are the staff, customers and suppliers, need to have a voice. This applies even – and I need to emphasise this – if the other party is basically trusted as is certainly the case with Hymns Ancient & Modern, which is a different world from Philip and J Mark Brewer.

There are still important questions about the concentration of influence and other questions, and Phil puts this better well:

  • Does the Church of England need an independent voice for its publishing division?
  • Is it right to concede so much control of the Church’s voice to the owners of the Church Times?
  • What provision — pastoral as well as financial — is being made for staff who now face the very real possibility of redundancy?

There is more detail on Wannabe Priest’s blog.

Anglican Books Forum

That has set off the thought whether we need a group / network / whatever that can be an arena where the range of people interested in books can have these conversations.

These are some initial thoughts.

  • When the Brewer detail is finally revealed, everyone will be looking for a network or body to comment on these kind of questions.
  • The current question around CHP demonstrates the need for something independent but comprehensive to raise alarm.
  • I’m suggesting that such a setup could have its seed as a spinoff from SPCKSSG.
  • We have seen the the need for an Anglican focus, e.g., a group that can raise a hue and cry in General Synod etc if necessary, but also be consulted by e.g., the Archbishops’ Council. Of course there’s a “promote books” role as well.
  • Needs to encompass publishers /booksellers /readers /writers / bookstaller people / various other stakeholders.

Note: clearly “books” is the wrong word, since we are in a multimedia age – but it’s the best I could do for now.

Wrapping Up

This needs to be talked about more widely, since it is not our core purpose – which continues to be the scrutiny of the run down of the former-SPCK bookshop chain until the bitter (or not) end.

Also, it’s not something we can drive from here – anyone interested in picking up the baton? We can advise.

What do you think?

Helping new people get to grips with the SPCK/SSG Story: Blog Button

Matt Wardman writes:

We are in a slight posting hiatus this week (more from me on Friday), with lots going on in the background.

Scrutinising the rundown of the former-SPCK Bookshops

So, following on from the article a few days ago aiming to help new people get to grips with the SPCK/SSG saga, here is a 125×125 blog button that you can put onto your web page to link back to the article.

<a href="https://spckssg.wordpress.com/2009/01/09/new-to-the-spckssg-story-or-just-feeling-lost/"><img
src="http://www.parishpump.org.uk/campaigns/campaign-125x125-spck-up.gif"
alt="Scrutinising the rundown of the former-SPCK Bookshops"></a>

This code should work on any site, and will include the image automatically.

New to the SPCK/SSG Story, or just feeling lost?

Phil Groom writes:

If you’re new to the SPCK/SSG Story or just feeling lost, please visit either our About or Help sections — that’s what they’re there for: you’ll find permanent links to both in the navigation bar across the top of every page. Please let us know if anything in either section isn’t clear or you’d like more info and we’ll do our best to oblige.

You may also find the Church Times SPCK-SSG timeline by Pat Ashworth helpful — scroll down the page when you get there. It covers the period from Oct 2006 to Sept 2008.

For links to related posts, check the News Index: updated manually whenever we come across relevant reports. Mostly relevant, anyway. The odd bit of irrelevance sneaks in from time to time: we have to lighten things up occasionally. Thank heavens for Gerald!

New Christian Bookshop launched in Salisbury by Mark Clifford: Sarum Books

Matt Wardman writes:

q-photo-ssg-stand-up-spck-up-button

Rubies in the dust are becoming more common, and we now have at least five new independent bookshops set up addressing the market niches previously occupied by SPCK (Leicester, Norwich, Lincoln, Cardiff and Salisbury) and often run by ex-SPCK staff.

There are also a number of other independent initiatives that I don’t know enough about to add to this list.

The ex-Manager of the bookshop at Sarum College Mark Clifford is opening a new bookshop in Catherine Street in Salisbury. There is a report in the Church Times tomorrow.

Mark Clifford is chairman of the Booksellers Association’s Christian Booksellers Group.

Sarum Books on Catherine Street, Salisbury

From a previous Christian Marketplace report

“Clifford told Christian Marketplace that he had secured premises in Catherine Street in the city and was hopeful of being able to open by the middle of October. “I am currently finalising all the legal details with the lease etc. and hope to have everything completed in the next couple of weeks.”

The new shop is to be called Sarum Books and Clifford’s aim is to serve the whole community of Salisbury and maintain the supply of a wide range of Christian books across the theological spectrum.

Clifford said he had received a lot of support, particularly from his two main financial backers, and also from a number of Christian publishers and distributors alike. “I’ve also met the suffragan Bishop who has also been very encouraging and supportive of what I am trying to do and I also know that local clergy will prefer to have a shop in the main shopping area.”

In fact the new shop officially opens on January 3rd.

My Comment

These new independent shops in locations where SPCK bookshops previously existed are preserving the “broad” emphasis of the old SPCK chain (and in my opinion are far more strategic for inter-communal relations than certain Prime Ministers carrying Korans under their arms when the media are around), so I’m keen to encourage them.

In Salisbury, I think it is likely to end up with the Sarum College Bookshop as a specialist academic shop, and Sarum Books on Catherine Street catering to a more general market in the City Centre.

The shop which used to be part of the SPCK chain is the one at 51 High Street, Salisbury and this may soon be called “Saint Stephen the Great” or “Third Space Books” or “ENC Ltd” or “SSG LLC” or whatever the name (or alleged name) is this month, after action by Trading Standards to – I am told – make them take down the SPCK name that they lost the right to use around 14 months ago. I think the sign finally came down about a week ago. I encourage you not to use the Saint Stephen the Great bookshop for all the reasons I have posted previously.

Summary

So, in summary:

  1. Please take a look at Sarum Books in Catherine Street, Salisbury.
  2. Avoid the Saint Stephen the Great Christian Bookshop in the High Street in Salisbury. Remember,  it is run by unethical bullies.
  3. The Sarum College bookshop has changed in some ways but is still run by the college. Check this shop out too.

Don’t forget to order your secular books at the Christian bookshop too, if the service fits.