Tag Archives: employment tribunal

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…

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SSG Employment Tribunals: Resistance is Not Entirely Useless: Stand Up SPCK Up

Trouble BrewingMatt Wardman writes:

(A slight apology to usual readers for the weekend bulge in SPCK articles; a lot has happened in the last few days.)

This is an account from someone who reached an out of court settlement before a previous Employment Tribunal.

There will be a case hearing on the 18th September to determine procedure for the 31 Employment Tribunals which are being pursued against the Society of Saint Stephen the Great (SSG) by USDAW, the Shopworkers’ Union.

We have heard that some people are being contacted with offers of Out of Court Settlements. Now, clearly it is a matter for each individual to make their own decision, and I don’t want to try and change that in any way. This account is from someone who pursued a claim against SSG. I hope it is useful.

“As one who has played this game and danced this waltz with the Brewers I can say that:

  • They will make the payment in advance of the Tribunal if people agree to it.
  • It is the only guaranteed way of getting something out of him, as Employment Tribunal payments can be notoriously difficult to get even if awarded: there is no mechanism to make them pay up – just taking them to court again!
  • In the end I was advised that though at Tribunal I was likely to get more they weren’t sure when I would get it given their (then not as bad!) history of default, but that the choice was mine.
  • I decided to take what was on the table which was what was owed me (we had a settlement agreement they had defaulted on!) and all I had originally wanted, after all at that time I thought that it hurt them more to cough up than not.

They will try for a non-Disclosure or Confidentiality Agreement. In my case I refused to entertain it unless he (J Mark Brewer) – would increase the settlement, as I did not consider what he was paying me entitled him to apply a gag as well; the amount was only that I was entitled to in my settlement package.

I had cited that I had lost all faith in the Brewers, and there was an element reported in my grievance of harassment, and a claim of physical intimidation by Philip Brewer, so it was a bit tricky for them to push for a Confidentiality Agreement.

He played the “Christian” card, but I stated categorically that I refused to be gagged in case I was needed to be a witness or provide supporting evidence for any one else who might find themselves in the same or similar situations.

The only thing I did agree to was to release all claims against Philip Brewer and the Society of Saint Stephen the Great arising from my time of employment with them, but I made them put in the same wording in regards to me! He quibbled initially, but then caved in.

So – yes – you can argue the toss and come out ahead – but it does take time to do that. To be honest you have to be willing to really play chicken with the them as he will push it and if you give in he’s got you!

At the end of the day you have to make the decision you think is best for you with the hope it won’t effect others down the line!”

My Thoughts

Mr Brewer is phoning around starting to offer people Out of Court settlements before the Employment Tribunal later this week.

Unnecessary confidentiality agreements can be used to keep you quiet in future when you probably don’t absolutely need to sign them for the best outcome now. The tactics used by SSG to control SPCK in this case have been classic “Divide and Rule”. Such tactics mean that people cannot draw strength from each other in the face of personal intimidation. An example is the insistence that email can only be used for “vertical” email communication with the bosses, not for “horizontal” communication with colleagues.

In my opinion, over aggressive Confidentiality Agreements fit the same mould.

Again, these are just my opinions – whether they are given any weight is for individuals to decide.