Category Archives: Tribunals

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…

Durham Cathedral Staff Tribunal Starts

Our thanks to Valiant For Truth for bringing to our attention that in The Journal Newspaper yesterday there was an article of great import to those who frequent this site,

Durham Cathedral Bookshop Staff Launch Legal Fight

This in many ways marks the official start of Durham Staff in their fight for Justice against the Brewer Brothers and their tactics of playing fast and loose with employment law and the rights of workers to be treated fairly and dismissed in a right way.

However Durham Cathedral itself via their trading arm are also in the dock as it were, again something that may not come as any great surprise to readers of this blog who have at times been dismayed, upset and hurt by some of the Cathedrals inactions and actions throughout the saga.

The article begins by saying:

CATHEDRAL bosses could become embroiled in a complex legal fight after bookshop staff launched tribunal proceedings.

Six workers at Durham Cathedral’s bookshop are seeking compensation after their employment was allegedly terminated when the shop unexpectedly closed on January 22 this year.

But confusion has arisen over who is potentially liable for any payouts and proceedings have been listed against several different companies, including the cathedral’s trading arm, Durham Cathedral Trading Ltd.

The article then goes on to say:

Miss Jeram, representing the Trust, (inserted clarification for blog readers – that’s SSGCT) said: “There are a number of uncertainties. There has been a great deal of confusion right from the beginning over their employer.

“The only issues can be who the employer was immediately prior to the closing of the bookshop and who the employer was at any time after that, in the period between January 22 and March 1.

“We’ve got to consider whether the claims should be struck out against the first respondent. At some point after June 2007 and before July 2008 it is my understanding that the Brewers attempted to wind up SSG LLC in Houston. After that time their employer could not have been SSG so it would have become the Durham Cathedral Shop Management Company.”

Claims against employers involve redundancy pay, unfair dismissal, breach of contract and unpaid work.

Sara Brody, representing the staff on behalf of shop workers union Usdaw at the hearing, argued the Trust should remain on the list of potential employers.

She said: “The claimants believe the Trust was their employer throughout, so their primary claim is against the Trust.”

Last year Durham cathedral bosses served SSG notice to vacate the shop, the last in the UK to be involved with the Trust, by May of this year.

Again these issues as raised are nothing new to anyone aquainted with this situation, previous tribunal actions and this blog.

So again we would ask that anyone who has any information, paperwork or correspondence of any sort that could help USDAW and the Durham staff to clear up the issue of employers please do get in touch with them directly.  Anything that demonstrates who people believed they were doing business with or indeed were doing business with during the time frames mentioned can all help in proving who the employers were and give credence to the staffs perception of employer, so please do get in touch with USDAW and offer your help to them in making sure justice is again done.

As always our thoughts are with those involved in this action and we hope for a swift and just outcome for the Staff at Durham.

SSG to Remain under Charity Commission Control

Phil Groom writes:

Thanks to ‘Mole Island’ for the pointer to the Charity Commission’s Case Summary for their investigation into the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust, report issued 8th March 2010, published 12th March 2010 [1]:

Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (1109008, formerly 1119839-1)

1. In April 2009 a number of Orders were made by the Charity Commission in relation to this charity under s.18(1) of the Charities Act 1993:

i. to vest the charity’s interests in land in the Official Custodian for Charities; and

ii. to appoint an Interim Manager to the charity, with specific functions to address immediate and serious difficulties which it faced.

2. The Commission was asked to review its decisions to make (and subsequent decisions not to discharge) these Orders.

3. The review, which was conducted by Board Members John Wood and Simon Jones acting under the delegated authority of the Board, considered the evidence and the reasoning behind the original decisions, as well as representations made on behalf of the applicant.

4. The Board Members decided on 3 February 2010 that the Orders are upheld (unvaried) because it remained necessary or desirable for them to remain in place for the purposes of protecting or securing the proper application of the property of the charity.

5. The applicant has been advised of the decision, the full reasons for it and the right for persons with standing to bring an appeal against the decision to the First-tier Tribunal (Charity).

© 2010 Crown Copyright

Third Sector, the charities and voluntary services news site, have reported the story here: Christian charity to remain under crisis management, h/t Eddie Arthur.

Meanwhile a report in this month’s Christian Marketplace (Industry News, p.6, ‘SSG Tribunal claims completed’, online edition available here) notes that all outstanding payments (total £301,500) to former SPCK/SSG bookshop employees who were Usdaw members have now been made. Sadly, however, as the report concludes, whilst this is good news for the 32 Usdaw members, “there are many others who have received no compensation and still carry the scars of their experience in one of the most unhappy events in the history of Christian retailing in the UK.”

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.


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

Tribunals Postponed: Statement from USDAW

Phil Groom writes:

New post from Dave Walker on the Church Times blog yesterday with an official statement from Usdaw confirming Matt Wardman’s last update:

St. Stephen the Great tribunal update

Both parties agreed late on Friday to postpone today’s preliminary hearing on St. Stephen the Great, which had been scheduled to consider who the employer of the claimants was at the time they were dismissed.

The hearing is being postponed to allow time for members to consider a settlement offer. However, members have to agree unanimously to the offer for the case to be settled. Each claimant has been sent a letter outlining the settlement proposal and seeking instructions from them. They have been asked to respond as soon as possible, so that the union is able to negotiate terms of settlement or proceed with the hearing if no agreement can be reached.

11 May 2009

At present the only info about this case on Usdaw’s website appears to be the statement issued on 24 June 2008, Usdaw fights for mistreated bookshop workers.

As others have said, fantastic to see Dave posting on the story again.

Dave: I suspect I speak for many when I say I look forward to seeing you regain sufficient confidence to repost your missing material, complete with comments. Even if you don’t open it up for discussion, think of it as a public service: there’s sure to be information in those comments that the Charity Commission’s Interim Manager and solicitors would find very helpful…

Out of Court Settlement Offered in ex-SPCK Staff Employment Tribunal case to USDAW

stand-up-spck-up-3

Matt Wardman writes:

[Update 12/5/2009: I have spoken to USDAW and can clarify the following two points:

1 – The Out of Court Offer that has been made is a comprehensive offer of settlement for all matters including unpaid wages and all other matters in dispute.

2 – The Employment Tribunal hearing is formally “suspended” not “cancelled”. This preserves the option of continuing the case should the settlement offer not prove acceptable to all staff involved.

USDAW are now starting a process of consultation with all 32 people in the Employment Tribunal action; the hearing this week only included a small number of test cases.]

Breaking news is that the Employment Tribunal relating to staff of the former SPCK Bookshop Chain has been cancelled, as the Interim Manager has offered an Out of Court settlement, which is likely to be accepted.

I am told that the settlement is likely to be acceptable to USDAW, who have fought a year-long Industrial Tribunal claim against the multi-headed hydra of several organisations created by J Mark Brewer and his brother Philip on behalf of bullied, victimised, sacked, and unpaid staff.

This is a direct result of the imposition of an Interim Manager by the Charity Commission, which in turn is a direct result of complaints submitted by campaigning bloggers and others committed to scrutinising the exploitation and mismanagement of the chain by the Brewer Brothers, detailing information that had been discovered over a period of months by a wide network. These complaints happened as far back as last August (2008).

It is also a direct result of a campaign of accurate reporting, initially by Dave Walker, but then by dozens of blogs (including my Wardman Wire site) which have discovered information, documented abuses, exposed lies (and probable perjury), and kept on going regardless.

I am hopeful that the fact that the charity is now controlled by the Charity Commission rather than the modern version of Shyster, Flywheel, and Shyster means that payments will be made of unpaid wages going back the best part of two years. Based on information I have picked up over the last months, there are quite substantial sums involved, well into six figures.[Update for clarity: I mean total sums, and I quote claims for “unpaid wages going back over 2 years” to illustrate that significant numbers are involved. ]

Special acknowledgements are due to the legal team at USDAW for dealing with a monstrously complicated case, and the staff who kept on fighting. It is also a victory for blog campaigners and fellow travellers who knitted it all together, especially Dave mentioned above and my colleague at SPCK/SSG News and Information, Phil Groom, and Unity at Ministry of Truth.

Several important aspects of the SPCK case – compensation to one significant group of staff for lost wages, and possibly bullying and victimisation – will have been resolved if this goes through, so we can have a big party. And some ex-staff can take a well-deserved holiday when the money comes through.

Continue reading

Tribunals: Next Round Begins

Phil Groom writes:

Please spare a thought and/or pray for everyone involved in the next round of Employment Tribunals, which start today.

The Charity Commission’s appointment of an Interim Manager is good news on the one hand in that at last an outside agency is responding to the Brewers depredations of the former SPCK bookshops; but on the other hand, the solicitors appointed by the Interim Manager have specific responsibility “to preserve the assets of the charity and contest the legal claims of the Usdaw members.”

Let justice roll on like a river!

USDAW Statement as reported on the Church Times blog:

St. Stephen the Great tribunal

The long-awaited first stage of the St. Stephen the Great tribunal is due to take place next week in Bury St. Edmunds, commencing Monday 11 May, and is scheduled to run for three days. This is a preliminary hearing to consider who the employer of the claimants was at the time they were dismissed (the charitable trust, or one of the two limited companies).

Since the date was arranged, the Charity Commission has been conducting an investigation into how the charitable trust has been run and has now used its powers under the Charities Act to intervene and appoint an interim manager to manage the affairs of the charity (in place of the previous trustees, who were the American-based Mark Brewer and other members of his family). The interim manager has, in turn, appointed new solicitors to preserve the assets of the charity and contest the legal claims of the Usdaw members.

These new solicitors asked the tribunal to postpone the hearing in order to allow extra time for them to get up to speed with the cases. But Usdaw objected, as our members had been waiting so long for their cases to be heard. The hearing will now commence on the Monday morning with legal arguments for and against the granting of a postponement of the tribunal.

Usdaw is hoping that the court will consider the best interests of the claimants, who have waited patiently for justice, three of whom will be travelling to Bury St. Edmunds to appear as test case witnesses on behalf of all those dismissed, and allow the case to continue on the day.

Tribunals Update in Christian Marketplace

Phil Groom writes:

Christian Marketplace Feb 2009

Christian Marketplace February 2009

A warm welcome to anyone who has arrived here after reading the latest report in Christian Marketplace mag:

SSG Tribunal date set for May

Ex-employees of the beleaguered SSG bookshop chain (formerly SPCK Bookshops) moved closer to getting their claims against their employer heard with the announcement of the date for a preliminary hearing in May (11-13), to be held in Bury St Edmunds.

Christine Peacock from shopworker’s union Usdaw, which is representing thirty one former staff at the Tribunal, said, “The preliminary hearing will decide who the employer was at the time.”

Read the full article >

I’m not sure that my post New to the SPCK/SSG Story, or just feeling lost? really “gives an indepth history of the story” as generously described by that  Christian Marketplace report, but it does provide some pointers that should help you find your way through the maze.

If you’re involved in the Christian book trade or are a church leader and you don’t receive your own copy of Christian Marketplace, head on over to the UKCBD Blog to find out how to pick up a FREE subscription: Keeping Up to Date, Getting Up to Speed.

Now, whatever is going on in Bountiful, Tucson?