Phil Groom writes:
Thank you to all those who have signed the petition to rescue Durham Cathedral Bookshop from the Brewers. We have now passed the 300 signature mark and I have forwarded signatures 251 – 300, with the petitioners’ comments and my own further thoughts on the situation, to the Dean and Chapter, cc’d to the Bishop of Durham and to the Secretary of North East Christian Churches Together for reference. If you have signed the petition and would like a copy of that message — from which this post is largely adapted — please get in touch.
Of the various recent petitioners’ comments, I personally found Natalie Jones’ observations especially telling: here we have someone who is not a Christian yet who nonetheless values the Christian heritage that Durham Cathedral has historically represented – but now finds herself repulsed by this ongoing situation. It is a serious indictment indeed when even those who have no vested interest in Christianity can clearly see the damage that the Brewers are doing:
I am not Christian, but I do enjoy visiting cathedrals and entering into intelligent religious debate. A few years ago, when I visited the Durham Cathedral Book Shop, I was pleasantly surprised by the breadth of reading materials to be found, not just on Christianity, but other religions, and different approaches to faith. I was shocked, however, when visiting the book shop on a recent trip to Durham, to see not only how few books there were, but to find of the scope of titles to be very limited. I am dismayed that a former centre of education has been taken over by fundamentalists who have run the business so badly that the staff cannot order any stock because of unpaid suppliers. The Brewers as destroying an important part of the Cathedral as surely as a suicide bomber might – they are just taking a longer way about doing it, like some kind of infectious mold destroying an old, beautiful piece of stone. Fundamentalism is fundamentalism, not matter what denomination of belief it belongs to.
David Wilkinson’s remarks are also telling:
The United States Bankruptcy Court has thrown out Mark Brewers application to file for the bankruptcy of St Stephen the Great LLC, a company trading in England. If Mark Brewer believes this company to be bankrupt why is the company still a registered Charity? Why is the company collecting tax relieved Gift Aid donations? Why is the company continuing to trade?
As Wilkinson notes, Mark Brewer failed in his attempt to file “St Stephen the Great LLC” — a non-existent company — for bankruptcy in the USA. Personally, I can only see two possible ways of reading that attempt: either Mark Brewer, as one of the real St Stephen the Great (SSG) company’s owners, regards the company as insolvent or he intentionally set out to perpetrate some sort of fraud. There may, of course, be other explanations, although it is noteworthy that the Trustee for the Texas Bankruptcy Courts seemed to view Brewer’s actual filing for bankruptcy as an attempted fraud on the courts.
Did the Brewers believe SSG to be insolvent? If so, how is it that the company is continuing to trade? If not, why the attempt to file for bankruptcy? My understanding is that it is illegal for a company to continue trading once it has declared itself bankrupt – and, as appears to be the case here, for such a company to hand over its assets to another company which, as far as I can see, has been set up for no other reason than to acquire those assets in order to allow the company’s owners to evade their debts and continue trading, surely smacks of fraud.
Where then does this leave the Durham Cathedral Shop Management Company, DCSMC? When DCSMC was established, Philip Brewer was adamant that there was no ongoing relationship between SSG and the new company. Yet the same staff continued working, selling the same stock (alongside stock brought in from other branches of SSG) using the same tills and computers. Perhaps most telling of all, however: the same man, Philip Brewer himself, remained (and remains) in overall charge of the business, emailing instructions to the Durham shop staff in his capacity as a representative of SSG, and issuing instructions to the bank to accept cheques made out to SSG… all at the same time as insisting that suppliers must be told that their unpaid accounts were no longer the Durham shop’s concern. Under these circumstances is it not facile to claim that the Durham Shop is a separate entity?
The bankruptcy filings indicated huge debts owed by Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust, of which a significant proportion must surely relate to unpaid suppliers to the Durham Shop as one of the group’s largest outlets. What are we to conclude? The transition from SSG Charitable Trust to the Durham Cathedral Shop Management Company seems to have been handled in a way that sought to avoid responsibility for these debts. The subsequent attempt to put SSG itself into Bankruptcy was interpreted by the US courts in precisely this manner: an attempt by the Brewers to simply walk away from their responsibilities to their creditors.
Of course, I could be wrong: I’m sure that Mark and Philip Brewer are men of integrity who would not dream of scheming to withhold due payments from their suppliers, who would never consider withholding their workers’ wages any longer than absolutely necessary. Appearances can be deceptive and no doubt all these things are due to simple misunderstandings which will soon be resolved. No doubt examination of company accounts will reveal a full audit trail for all the stock transferred between SSG, ENC and DCSMC. No doubt perfectly reasonable explanations will soon be forthcoming. I look forward to that day.