Tag Archives: Church Times

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In our view, and based on published and unpublished information, a criminal investigation is more than merited.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


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

The atmosphere at CRE/CBC #CBC09 #CRE09

Phelim McIntyre writes:

As some of you may be aware the Christian Resources Exhibition and the Christian Booksellers Convention were under the same roof. I had the joy of bumping into Dave Walker (of Cartoon Church), Clem from Christian Marketplace and many publishers and booksellers. So what was it like from an SPCK/SSG viewpoint? Putting aside that for many the combination of the two events was a failure there was a HUGE sense of relief. I have never been hugged or shaken by the hand by so many people.

The news of the industrial tribunials being sorted, marching orders at Durham and the Charity Commission acting is, as one person put it “the light at the end of a very long tunnel”. Yes there are more battles going on, some of which I can’t mention because silence is the better part of discretion – but I can say that the dam is about to break.

As someone who, with Dave W, Dave K, Matt W, Phil Groom, Singleblog and others (you know who you are) has been at the forefront of speaking with the press (I was one of the naughty people who sent documents to the papers when I was at SPCK), networking ex-staff, blogging and so on I have been asked was it worth it? The answer is yes. Justice must be done. So to all of you who have not been told this but have been campaigning – consider yourselves shaken by the hand and hugged.

Some one did suggest that we organise a firing squad for the Brewers Grimm but changed their mind as a firing squad would be too quick. So someone suggested that as they see us as heretics we treat them as heretics and burn them at the stake. I see some Brewer effegies this coming Novemeber.

The Church Times has reported the news here http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/75134. This is a subscriber only page this week but will probably be readable next week. Christian Marketplace will also have something soon.

Just a final word from someone at CRE/CBC. “Don’t give up until they (the Brewers) are finished”. As I said, more is happening which we hope to be able to blog soon.

Church Times Report on Salisbury

Matt Wardman writes:

Yesterday I mentioned that the Church Times was due to publish an article about Mark Clifford’s new bookshop in Salisbury. It also has a good roundup of recent developments in the case of St Stephen the Great. The piece is here and is reproduced below.

A NEW Christian bookshop opens in Salisbury tomorrow. The owner is Mark Clifford, a former manager of Church House Bookshop, who was recently made redundant from the Sarum College Bookshop.

Mr Clifford lost his job in a col­lege cost-cutting exercise, having seen sales rise by ten per cent between September 2007 and June 2008. He had taken over a struggling shop with declining sales, and described his three years there as “tough”. Sales rose despite staff cuts last year, and the shop was said to be picking up a great deal of the business of the former SPCK shop in Salisbury after its new owners, the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSG), started bankruptcy proceedings in Texas (News, 13 June 2008). The college’s shop is now being run by its librarians.

The SSG shop is still trading in a limited way in Salisbury, managed by a member of the Brewer family. Mark and Phil Brewer are directors of SSG, an Eastern Orthodox charity based in the US. Many UK suppliers will not deal with SSG, but the Salis­bury and Chichester stores are re­ported to have taken in remaindered books from shops closed by the Brewer brothers. Trading Standards have instructed that SPCK signage is to be removed from the shop front at Salisbury.

Sarum College tried twice to sell the college bookshop to SSG, a move Mr Clifford opposed. The trustees gave him the option last summer of leaving or buying the business him­self, or of someone else’s buying it. It was not prepared to negotiate about the rent. After Mr Clifford announ­ced on 11 August last year that he was going to open his own business, he was given an hour to leave, he said.

The new shop will eventually have two trading floors, he says. “Salis­bury needs a city-centre Christian bookshop, and I think we’ve got the knowledge and experience to pro­vide a really good service. The book trade has got excited by it, and I have tremendous support from publishers and suppliers.”

Restricted covenants limit former SPCK shops to bookselling with a broad Christian tradition. The Brewer brothers tried unsuccessfully to sell many of the shops in April 2008. They sold the Exeter shop in September 2008 for £507,000. It is now GemStar Jewellery and Gifts.

Thirty former employees of SPCK Bookshops are taking their cases to an employment tribunal (News, 12 September 2008). Pensions, treat­ment of staff, payment to creditors, responsibility for leases, and legal threats are all issues as yet unre­solved in what one former employee has described as a “trail of damage and despair”. The SPCK mission society is no longer involved with any of the business of the SSG shops.

Here’s hoping for a LOT of media coverage for our campaign in January.

Christian Marketplace Reports on the SPCK/SSG Affair

Christian Marketplace, September 2008

Page Updated 23/07/2009

Phil Groom writes:

Figured it would be useful to compile an overview of the SPCK/SSG reports featured in Christian Marketplace magazine. Christian Marketplace and the Bookseller seem to be the only print media outlets that have continued running regular updates on the SPCK/SSG situation since Mark Brewer’s C&D threats against Dave Walker. This is in marked contrast to the Church Times, which seems to have allowed itself to be effectively gagged by the threat, a point recently noted by David Keen and Maggi Dawn. It certainly seems a little odd that the Church Times hasn’t risen to the defence of its blogger and cartoonist…

Fortunately Dave had already compiled an index of Church Times reports and letters before Mr Brewer went ballistic. But I’m getting distracted; here are the Christian Marketplace Reports, in date order, most recent first:

More closures at SSG bookshops
Following the intervention of the Charities Commission in May all but two of the original 23 bookshops acquired by SSG from SPCK in 2006 are now closed.

Major developments in the SSG Bookshops story
After a relatively quiet few months, May saw a number of major devlopments unfold in the SSG Bookshop saga in a very short space of time…

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.

SSG Bankruptcy filed ‘in bad faith’
Attempts by the owners of UK bookshop chain SSG (formerly SPCK) to enjoy the protection of Chapter 7 bankruptcy have been thrown out by a US court…

Good News for Cardiff
On Saturday 6th September, Churches Together Bookshop in Cardiff officially opened with a service of dedication held in the shop lead by the Rev. Tom Arthur, minister at the U.R.C. City church…

Norwich bookshop re-opens
Plans are well under way for the re-opening of a bookshop and café on the site of the former SSS/SPCK Bookshop in Norwich…

SSG Bankruptcy delay could impact on Tribunal claims
A delay in the hearing of the beleaguered SSG bookshop chain’s claim for bankruptcy in the USA could have implications for the forthcoming Industrial Tribunal cases lodged by former SSG bookshop staff in the UK…

Hundreds gather to celebrate the life of Worcester bookseller
The magnificent stone nave of Worcester’s 11th century cathedral resounded to the praise of over 600 worshippers as the Christian community of Worcester and beyond came to give thanks for the life of ‘a much loved bookseller’…

SSG Shops pulled from auction
The four shops SSG Bookshops due to be auctioned by Colliers CRE in London on 13th May were withdrawn from the sale a week before…

Robust response from Brewer re SSG Bookshops turmoil
Responding to a request from Christian Marketplace for information regarding the status of a number of shops within the SSG (former SPCK) Bookshop chain, Mark Brewer, Chairman of the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSGCT) which took over the chain of 23 bookshops in October 2006, gave a robust response…

Quieter month at SSG? – No
Following the frenetic amount of activity in February surrounding the SSG Bookshop chain with shop closures, staff dismissals and shops ‘temporarily’ closed for re-fit, it began to appear that things had quietened down in the last couple of weeks…

Bleak month for SSG Staff and customers
Further developments at the SSG (former SPCK) bookshop chain have led to closures. During the first week of February the Cambridge, Sheffield, Norwich and Lincoln branches were closed…

SSG makes The Bookseller “flops” list for 2007
Writing in the 21/28 December issue of The Bookseller, the editor’s Leader column lists The Society of St Stephen the Great (SSG) as one of their flops of 2007…

More resignations at SSG bookshops
It was reported by The Bookseller.com (04.12) that staff at the Newcastle and Truro branches of SSG Bookshops have become the latest members of staff to resign from the business…

The SSG saga goes on
It’s rapidly becoming the ‘Fawlty Towers’ of the Christian retail trade in the UK. The way events at the SSG (formerly SPCK) Bookshops are evolving would probably stretch the imagination of even the most creative ‘sit-com’ writers…

SSG Bookshop in Leicester goes independent
The Leicester Diocese email news service reported last month that the former SPCK Bookshop in Bishop Street in Leicester was under new ownership from 1st November…

SPCK Bookshops staff resign
The SPCK Bookshops story continues with the news that all seven employees of the Exeter SPCK Bookshop have resigned in a row over new contracts. They terminated their employment on Saturday 13th October…

Concern rising over SPCK bookshops
A couple of months ago this magazine asked the question ‘Is it all bad at SPCK Bookshops?’ Well it seems it might be according to recent stories circulating in the trade…

New church and bookshop in Poole
The former St Osmund’s Church in Poole, closed in 2002, having been declared redundant under the “Pastoral Measures Act”, was re-opened as the Orthodox Church of Poole last month. The building was purchased in 2005 by Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust, the new owners of SPCK Bookshops…