Tag Archives: Mark and Philip Brewer

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.”

Northern Echo on Durham Cathedral Bookshop: Brothers are ordered to leave cathedral shop

Northern Echo - Brothers are ordered to leave cathedral shop

Northern Echo - Brothers are ordered to leave cathedral shop

Phil Groom writes:

Thanks to Mark Tallentire of the Northern Echo for following up on his previous report on this story:

TWO brothers at the centre of an unholy row over the running of a cathedral bookshop have been told to leave within a year.

Critics said Phil and Mark Brewer ravaged the Durham Cathedral bookshop, once described as the best theological bookshop in the world, leaving it a shadow of its former self.

Hundreds signed a petition calling on the Cathedral Chapter to rescue the shop from the US pair, invoking the Biblical story of Jesus going into the temple to throw out the money-lenders to support their case.

Now, in a statement released to The Northern Echo, the chapter has announced it has served notice on the Brewers’ Saint Stephen the Great Trust, requiring it to vacate the premises by April 30, 2010…

Kudos to Matt Wardman for drawing the story to Mark’s attention.

Anger in Durham as Dean Snubs Petitioners’ Concerns

Phil Groom writes:

Dean of DurhamPetitioners calling for the Brewers’ business relationship with Durham Cathedral to be terminated have responded angrily to an announcement in last Sunday’s Cathedral Newsletter that the Dean’s new book — somewhat ironically, published by SPCK — is to be officially launched from the Cathedral Shop.

One petitioner has bluntly described the Dean’s decision to host his book launch in the Brewers’ shop as verging on “a deliberate two fingers against those who’ve signed the petition”, whilst another, leaving a message on the petition itself, states equally bluntly, “The fact that this petition still exists displays a singular disrespect for those who have signed it.”

I will trust in you, by Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham

I will trust in you, by the Very Revd Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham

The book, entitled I Will Trust In You: Companion to the Evening Psalms, ISBN 9780281059874, is priced at £9.99 but can be pre-ordered from Amazon for only £6.59, a 34% discount.

In November 2008 the Dean responded to a concerned petitioner by issuing a strong statement distancing the Cathedral authorities from the shop, noting that “the Cathedral Chaper does not manage the shop in its Great Kichen.” [sic] and emphasising that the shop “is NOT managed, is NOT controlled and is NOT run by the Cathedral itself.”

The book’s title, however, seems to beg the question: can the Dean be trusted to maintain that distance? If you share the concerns raised here and by the petitioners, please consider writing to the Dean personally to ask him that question and encourage him to seek an alternative venue: contact details may be found on the Cathedral Who’s Who page.

The date of the proposed launch is uncertain, given in the newsletter as March 31st whilst shop staff have reportedly been told that the event is scheduled for April 7th, during Holy Week. As this report goes live there is no mention of the book launch on the Cathedral website NewsNotices or Services & Events pages.

The petition, calling upon the Dean to take urgent and decisive action to free the Cathedral Shop from the Brewers’ control, was launched in August 2008. It now carries more than 360 signatures and remains open until its objective has been reached. If you have not already signed it, please consider doing so and please spread the word.

Rescuing Chichester’s Christian Bookshop: New Petition Launched

Phil Groom writes:

Yesterday morning we launched a new petition addressed to the Bishop and Diocese of Chichester: Rescuing Chichester’s Christian Bookshop. By midmorning 25 people had signed; by yesterday evening that number had more than doubled, and as with the Durham petition, my intention is to submit the petition to the Bishop whenever a multiple of 50 signatures is reached… so the first copy will be winging its way to him very soon.

Here’s the full text of the petition:

We, the undersigned, call upon the Bishop of Chichester and the Diocese of Chichester to rescue this once outstanding bookshop, previously part of the SPCK chain, from the control of Philip and Mark Brewer and their changing series of organisations (St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust / St Stephen the Great Limited and now Chichester Shop Management Co). 

The Brewers took control of this bookshop, of the entire SPCK Bookshop chain, with fine sounding words, but actions always speak louder than words: the former Chichester SPCK Bookshop is now but a shadow of its former self. Due to the failure of the Brewers to honour invoices for goods received, suppliers have been left high and dry at a time of recession; and the shelves stood empty until recently when stock was brought in from the former SPCK shop in Norwich, which has now been rescued by the local community in Norwich. 

St Olave’s in Chichester has a claim to be the oldest building in the city, yet is in a desperate state of repair. It was set up through covenant to provide information for the community, yet advertising anything that Philip Brewer considers contrary to the so-called ‘Orthodox’ aims of the charity is banned. Mark Brewer has claimed ownership of St Olave’s Church and has announced plans to turn it into an Orthodox place of worship. These men have abused staff, treated covenants and UK employment law with contempt, disregarded debts to their suppliers, fabricated a bankruptcy filing in the USA Courts and blatantly bullied anyone who has stood in their way: it ill-behoves the Diocese of Chichester to play host to them and their presence here casts a shadow over the mission of the wider church. 

Enough is enough: we urge you to take decisive action now to rescue this shop and St Olave’s Church from further depredation. We call upon you to step in, and to remove these men who are bringing Chichester’s Christian heritage into disarray and disrepute. We urge you, please: take back control of this building. It would be better for the shop to be closed than allowed to carry on in its current state. Then, as we see happening elsewhere around the country, people will be free to work together to create something new and bring light to this community. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the shop, you’ll find some information and photos here:

For information about the Brewers’ changing companies and their fabricated bankruptcy filing, see this post, Who are the ENC Management Company? — as cited in the USA Bankruptcy Court motions for dismissal of Mark Brewer’s case.

For information about their contemptuous disregard for UK employment law, refer to Usdaw, who have been fighting for justice on behalf of some thirty former employees (we hope to have more information about yesterday’s Case Management Discussion soon).

Finally for now, proof that those who are determined can break free of the Brewers: Norwich’s new Christian Resource Centre opens its pearly gates.

So please, if you share the concerns expressed, head on over there today and sign this petition. Let’s send a very clear message to

  1. The Bishop and Diocese of Chichester, that we will stand with them in taking whatever action is necessary to Rescue Chichester’s Christian Bookshop from further depredation;
  2. The Chichester Bookshop staff, that we stand with them and support them;
  3. The suppliers who have been robbed, that we share their distress;
  4. The Brewers, that their business practices are not welcome.

I could say more — much more! — but I’ll leave that to you: comments may be left on the petition and here.

Durham Cathedral Bookshop: Petition Update: 305 Signatures

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.

Being Creative



Phil Groom writes:

1. Congratulations and thanks to Matt Wardman on creating this rather splendid SPCK/SSG widget: go grab yourself a live copy from widgetbox to keep your blog up to date with the latest headlines!

2. Congratulations to Pauline Edwards who decided to make a karaoke video. Scroll down and enjoy.

3. Last but not least, of course, congratulations to Mark and Philip Brewer for the inspiration. What can I say to you, gentlemen, that hasn’t already been said? We will, of course, be delighted to Cease and Desist when you:

  1. Pay your workers
  2. Pay your suppliers
  3. Withdraw your threats

Until then, however, all together now with our Pauline:

A Psalm for Thursday

Time to Pray

Phil Groom writes:

For my not-quite-daily prayers I use Church House Publishing‘s Time to Pray: it’s an excellent and very handy little prayer book, just right for someone like me whose mind tends to wander all over the place as I wander into work each day. I find the structure and discipline of following a fixed pattern of prayer is precisely what my chaotic and caffeine-laced mind needs; and yes, I count myself fortunate to have a job to go to, unlike many of those for whom I offer this Psalm, those whose employment tribunals are coming up on Thursday this week.

It also strikes me as highly appropriate that for this post I am drawing on a book published by Church House Publishing, one of the publishers (alongside SPCK themselves, of course) whom I believe the collapse of the SPCK bookshops has hit the hardest.

Today, being Tuesday (albeit not for much longer: I’m writing this at 10.30pm), one of the set readings is Psalm 17:1-8. It struck me as highly appropriate for Thursday’s hearings and I took the liberty of rephrasing it slightly in my prayers this morning, turning it from the singular to the plural, from the past to the present… and yes, a few more liberties. Hit the link above for the unadulterated text if such things worry you. I offer it again for all of us now:

Refrain: Deliver us, O Lord, by your hand.

1  Hear our just cause, O Lord; consider our complaint; 
 listen to our prayer, which comes not from lying lips.

2  Let our vindication come forth from your presence; 
 let your eyes behold what is right.

3  Weigh our hearts, examine us by night, 
 refine us, and you will find no impurity in us.

Deliver us, O Lord, by your hand.

4  May our mouths not trespass for earthly rewards; 
 may we heed the words of your lips.

5  May our footsteps hold fast in the ways of your commandments; 
 may our feet not stumble in your paths.

Deliver us, O Lord, by your hand.

6  We call upon you, O God: will you answer us? 
 Incline your ear to us, and listen to our words.

7  Show us your marvellous loving-kindness, 
 O Saviour of those who take refuge at your right hand
   from those who rise up against them.

8  Keep us as the apple of your eye; 
 hide us under the shadow of your wings.

Deliver us, O Lord, by your hand.

The problem with such a prayer, of course, is that the Brewers are likely to be offering similar prayers, thinking of us as their enemies, rising up against them. That’s perhaps one of the saddest aspects of this whole business, that they too believe themselves to be serving God. It’s enough to make a grown man weep; and I do.

If you can, then, pray not with bitterness, pray not for vengeance, but rather for peace and justice…

Finally: Mark and Philip Brewer, if you happen to read this: once again, I assure you of my prayers: may you find the grace to respond generously to those whom you have wronged; and if you cannot find that grace of your own free will, may the courts help you find your way…