Tag Archives: brewer

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.


SPCK Staff: Tell the Church of England Pensions’ Board all the detail you have

Matt Wardman writes

I crashed into the former SPCK Bookshop story when it became a Free Expression issue back in July after watching with interest since the previous December, and since then I have become simply horrified at what has gone on and how staff, suppliers, the authorities and everyone have been treated with contempt by this pair of Shysters J Mark Brewer and Philip Brewer.

Below is an article from me attempting to help current and ex-staff members get in touch to give the Pensions’ Board the information needed. I am posting it here because the Wardman Wire has a prominence in search engines which is currently greater than the SPCK/SSG News and Information blog. It will be reproduced on the News blog on Monday.

The Brewers’ various corporate vehicles – of which the key one is the Society of St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust – have simply not been responding to requests to supply information about the status of staff pensions, which is itself an entirely contemptible and despicable course of action. Further, there are very real questions about whether the monies that were deducted from staff salaries as “pension contributions” were ever in fact even passed on to the Pensions’ Bodies.

SPCK Staff and ex-Staff Pensions

This is my interpretation, and not an official statement from any of the organisations involved. However, I am told that it highlights some current key issues accurately.

“I’m not claiming be an expert, but this is how I understand some of the issues around pensions. I am not a lawyer, but I hope these comments may help. Among the problems that the Church of England Pensions’ Board are likely to be facing are these:

Eligibility for the Church Workers’ Pension Fund

Eligibility for membership of the Church Workers’ Pension Fund (who manage the SPCK scheme) depends on the potential member being employed by a “Church of England Body”. The SPCK itself counts as such a body. The Society of St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust counted as such a body while the SPCK had the right to appoint a representative to the board of the body. Even after the Bishop of Gloucester and Simon Kingston resigned from the Board of Trustees due to conflicts of interest that “right” persisted.

When employees were transferred to other bodies/business entities (such as ENC Ltd and the companies running Durham and Chichester Shops), where SPCK did not have the right to be represented, therefore eligibility for membership of the Church Workers’ Pension Fund probably ceased at that point.

It is a further problem that it is in dispute when and whether such transfers happened, and what role was played by the St Stephen the Great Company Limited by Guarantee, whether any employees were transferred to THAT entity, when that was done, and whether employees of that entity would be eligible for Pension Fund Membership – bearing in mind that it was the *parent* charity, rather than the *daughter* charity, of the Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust.

Pension Contributions

In the attempt to make “St Stephen the Great LLC” bankrupt in the South Texas Bankruptcy Court, J Mark Brewer submitted documentation showing an unpaid debt to the Church of England Pensions’ Board for a sum of $13396.78. That may be money that employees think has gone to their pensions which has in fact gone to Brewer and Pritchard in “Legal Fees” or to the “Orthodox Church/Christian Mission Fund”, or elsewhere.

If those contributions have not reached the Church of England Pensions’ Board, then – unless they are told – they have no way of working out the relevant entitlement, or hypothetical entitlement (depending on whether the employee was working for an eligible organisation or not).

When they come to work it all out, they will have to make sensible assumptions given a very difficult set of circumstances and probably no one at all is going to be absolutely happy.

The Information needed by the Pensions’ Board

So they need as much information about each and every member of staff worked for SPCK or the other entities, when and what pension contributions have been made or are supposed to have been made.

That kind of information is things like – for example – the names of organisation paying payslips etc as well as deductions from salary.

Additional Voluntary Contributions

AVC’s (Additional Voluntary Contributions) are run by many pension schemes as a means whereby employees can boost their retirement income. The pension fund agrees to the payment and the amount (as there’s a government regulation on how much top up there can be) then the employer makes a deduction from payroll each month. This is shown as a separate deduction on the payslip and is sent to the Pension Provider as a separate payment.

Staff sending information to the Board should certainly advise of AVC payments because if these have not been passed on that really is theft as the money was taken each month from net pay.”

Wrapping Up

The Brewers’ offence is compounded bv the treatment of staff and the $1.5 million that has been admitted to have not been paid to creditors for goods supplied – while J Mark Brewer and Phil Brewer themselves extracted more than $750,000 from the same organisation at the same time – mean that this is not merely a game of leapfrog.

These admissions were made in the documents the attempted Bankruptcy Submission in Texas by J Mark Brewer, with the following statement (PDF, 1Mb) attached:

q-photo-spck-mark-brewer-bankruptcy-perjury-application

“I declare under penalty of perjury that I have read the answers contained in the foregoing statement of financial affairs and any attachments thereto and that they are true and correct to the best of my knowledge, information and belief”.

This submission itself was later admitted by J Mark Brewer to be in Bad Faith (PDF 150k):

q-photo-spck-mark-brewer-bankruptcy-bad-faith-admission

after the Trustee in Bankruptcy (public official) had Accused J Mark Brewer of perpetrating a Fraud on the Court (PDF 700k).

q-photo-spck-mark-brewer-bankruptcy-fraud-on-the-court-accusation

We encourage everyone who has posted about the closing down of CartoonChurch’s reporting, or taken an interest in the SPCK story, to review developments and publish a suitable end of year post – linking back to the News and Information Blog.

“This Town ain’t big enough for the both of us” said Gerald the Sheep

Matt Wardman writes:

It is 8 months since Phil Groom started the SPCK/SSG News Blog to help scrutinise the rundown of the former-SPCK chain of Bookshops.

Our cartoonists have kindly contributed a cartoon or two to remind everyone that it is the end of the year, and we’re still here. Here’s Gerald the Sheep back in town:

q-cartoon-spck-gerald-the-sheep-brewer-wolf

(By the way, there is a big “printable” version of the cartoon here).

This is how Phil stated the problem back in April:

What, exactly, do we mean by the designation ‘Christian’ when we refer to bookshops or publishers? Is it simply that we trade in products that relate to the Christian faith — are we simply a subset of other businesses and commercial enterprises? Or is there — should there be — something more distinctive than that? A sense of mission, perhaps? A sense of mission that goes beyond questions of finance, profit and loss, that makes us determined — somehow — to continue trading no matter what the odds stacked against us?

Or is it something about our business practices? Honesty and integrity, compassion and humility — a willingness to put others first: an emphasis on service, on service that goes beyond the call of duty to offer our customers, our co-workers — whether employees or employers — the best that we possibly can? Treating others with respect, as better than ourselves…

I ask these questions not out of idle curiosity but out of deep concern as I watch the debacle of the SPCK/SSG bookshops deepen, a once excellent chain brought to ruin (latest reports listed below)… and as I see Christian divisions of secular publishing houses increasingly dominating our marketplace. Lorna Roe, responding to my ‘Bibles and Bookmarks‘ post, puts the question about publishers bluntly:

There are a lot of ‘Christian’ publishers out there who try and cash in on the huge popularity of that one most important book, the Bible. Blatant materialism.

So, to get to the crux of the issue: is being Christian about what we (say we) believe or about how we behave? I put it to you that what we believe only matters insofar as it affects the way we behave. Jesus himself warned us about wolves in sheep’s clothing: “By their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:15-20).

In that light, what does what we’ve seen to date of the behaviour of the Brewer brothers tell us? What we’ve seen of the their attitude towards their staff; towards their suppliers; towards SPCK… of their disingenuity in their correspondence here, denying the reality of shop closures? Can we, with any sense of integrity, continue to refer to their shops as ‘Christian’?

I am in a quandary: on the one hand I want to support those SPCK booksellers who have somehow survived the storms thus far and are still working in their shops; on the other, I find myself wanting to expunge every record of the SPCK/SSG Bookshops from the UK Christian Bookshops Directory. The designation ‘Christian’ is sullied and brought into disrepute by the Brewers’ behaviour.

Would Jesus recognise them as having anything to do with him?

What would you do?

Lord have mercy…