Tag Archives: Mark Brewer

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In our view, and based on published and unpublished information, a criminal investigation is more than merited.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


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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

A message to all our supporters

David Keen writes

the following was sent to the 475-odd members of the We Support Dave Walker Facebook group earlier this week:

Subject: 1 year on

Dear all,

This Wednesday, 22nd July, was 1 year to the day since Dave Walker and Phil Groom both recieved their ‘Cease and Desist’ legal threats from Mark Brewer. An awful lot has happened during that time, not least of which has been the support of hundreds of you for Dave, former SPCK bookshop staff, and others who have suffered at the hands of the Brewers.

The good news is that plenty has been achieved.
– Firstly, Mark Brewer failed to get his St. Stephen the Great charity declared bankrupt in the US, a court case in which Dave’s posts were cited as evidence.
– In April this year the UK Charity Commissioners took over the running of the St. Stephen the Great charity, after a formal investigation.
– Even though the Brewers had moved all the bookshops into a new organisation (ENC Shop Management) the CC’s are now taking possession of these shops as St. Stephen assets.
– 30 former staff, whose tribunal against SSG was being heard earlier this year, will now have their cases settled by the Charity Commissioners.
– In the meantime Durham Cathedral has (at last) served notice on the Brewers tenancy of the Cathedral shop.

As you may know, though the SPCK posts remain absent from the Cartoon Blog (see them in full at http://opendebatenotlibelthreats.blogspot.com/), Dave has mentioned the saga a couple of times on his Church Times blog. At no point have any of Mark Brewers threats been acted upon. Instead it’s Mr Brewer himself who has gone very quiet.

Thankyou again for your support of Dave, and for those of you who have blogged, commented and emailed in support. We may be at the beginning of the end – both the end of SSG’s dismal foray into UK bookselling, and the end of the bookshop chain themselves. Any further developments will be reported at https://spckssg.wordpress.com/

Your fellow supporter

The Day we lost Dave

Phil Groom writes:

Yesterday I backtracked to J Mark Brewer’s attempts to silence my own blogging: Cease and Desist: One Year On

Today, a simple reminder that this is the day we lost Dave Walker from the ‘Save the SPCK’ campaign last year. Here’s Dave’s final SPCK Bookshops post from his Cartoon Church blog:

Tuesday, 22 July 2008
‘Cease and desist’ demand from Mark Brewer

This morning I was sent a ‘cease and desist’ demand from Mark Brewer relating to the posts I have made about the former SPCK bookshops. The demand says ‘Confidential – not to be redistributed or posted’, so I am not posting the text.

The demand says that if I do not remove all SSG-related material by noon today, July 22, 2008, an injunction will be sought against me and legal action taken for damages for libel.

I have therefore removed all of the SPCK/SSG posts on this blog, as, although I believe I have not done anything wrong I do not have the money to face a legal battle. The removal of these posts is in no way an admission of guilt.

To say I am not happy about the decision I have been forced to take here is an understatement. I feel as if I have let many people down who have relied on this site over the last year or more.

I am not allowing comments on this post, though I can be contacted as usual. I cannot of course stop you writing about this elsewhere.

LABELS: BLOGGINGSAVE THE SPCK

Then that post disappeared. Then the blogosphere exploded.

As most readers no doubt know, all of Dave’s missing posts have been reinstated (without comments, unfortunately) at opendebatenotlibelthreats.blogspot.com, from where this post has been retrieved.

The rest, as they say, is history…

Cease and Desist: One Year On

Phil Groom writes:

J Mark 'Bully Boy' Brewer

J Mark ‘Bully Boy’ Brewer

Where were you on July 21st 2008?

Whilst I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a date permanently etched in my memory, it’s a date I certainly won’t forget in a hurry: it’s the date J Mark ‘Bully Boy’ Brewer (shown right, screen grab from Fox News), Principal of Texas law firm, attorneys and counselors, Brewer and Pritchard PC,  issued the first of his now notorious ‘Cease and Desist’ messages, threatening me, my friends and my colleagues with legal action if we didn’t stop reporting on his abuse of his staff and his mismanagement of the former SPCK bookshops.

Of course, those weren’t the terms he used: he was — and sadly, still seems to be — a man in denial, a man who wanted to hide the evidence of his misdemeanours and was preparing the way for his equally notorious bankruptcy scam on the Texas courts.

His threats if I failed to comply with his demands were all-embracing:

If you do not do so; i.e., remove your websites by noon GMT July 22, 2008, I will seek an injunction against you, your colleagues, associates and companies.  I also will take legal action against each of you for damages for libel.  In that event, I will also subpoena all records relating to the persons whom you have allowed to post defamatory material on your website in order to add them as defendants.

Mark Brewer

Unfortunately for Mr Brewer but fortunately for me, I was on holiday at the time, without internet access. The first I knew of Brewer breathing threats (if not quite murder) against me was when my friend Clem Jackson, Editor of Christian Marketplace (CM) magazine, left a message on my mobile to tell me that he and Dave Walker had also been threatened. Since there was nothing I could do about it short of abandoning my holiday, which I wasn’t inclined to do, I phoned Clem back and left him a message to suggest that perhaps Mr Brewer needed a holiday too (OK, that’s the response I wish I’d made: honestly can’t remember what I really said).

Dave’s and CM‘s responses to Brewer’s threats are well documented: Dave took down his Save the SPCK posts, the offending report in CM was removed and my forthcoming column for CM — ironically enough, introducing this blog — was pulled at the last minute (please note that no criticism of either Clem or Dave is implied or intended in that observation). I, on the other hand, had the luxury of my holiday to reflect on what was going on, came back to see the groundswell of support for Dave, and decided — with the encouragement, help and support of friends too numerous to mention — to stand my ground. Two friends in particular stand out, however: David Keen and Matt Wardman — to them I am especially indebted.

I am glad that I did stand my ground and I take this opportunity to thank David, Matt and all my other blogging friends because now, one year later, we see the tables comprehensively turned on J Mark Brewer: the Charity Commission have taken over the St Stephen the Great Trust, have seen through the ‘ENC Shop Management Company’ scam and have seized control of the shops.

Wresting the shops from Brewer’s personal control, however, is but one part of the battle: former employees and many suppliers remain unpaid; and whilst the Charity Commission have seized control of the premises, photos taken in Winchester yesterday (watch this space) testify that they are not quite on top of the company correspondence.

For my own part, then, the fight goes on, for the same reasons I gave to the We Support Dave Walker facebook group back in August last year:

What’s this all about?
To me, the key things are:
• Justice for the (ex-)SPCK/SSG booksellers and unpaid suppliers
• The right to free speech
• Keeping information available

What do I hope to achieve?
• Payment of unpaid wages and invoices
• Honest reporting and open discussion
• Full reinstatement of Dave’s missing posts and comments

To conclude for today, however, a few links, including last year’s C&D discussions here, in date order as I eventually posted them:

The original C&D correspondence, in pdf:

  1. Demand to Cease and Desist 21st July 2008
  2. Second and Final Demand to Cease and Desist 22nd July 2008
  3. Please Remove this Web Page Immediately 22nd July 2008

An excerpt: the so-called ‘Legal Demand’ with the pages/links he wanted me to take down:

Legal Demand

I hereby demand that you cease and desist from doing any of these things any more. I specifically demand that you deactivate your webpages, websites and/or blogsites devoted to me, my brother, my family, SSG and/or SSGCT IMMEDIATELY. These include:

  1. https://spckssg.wordpress.com/tag/mark-brewer/
  2. www.unicorntreebooks.blogspot.com/
  3. http://www.christianmarketplace.org.uk/engine.cfm?i=45&cmid=4091 *
  4. http://www.christianbookshops.org.uk/news.htm#ssg060208 (Betrayed by the Brewers: Lies, Damned Lies and St Stephen the Great)
  5. http://www.christianbookshops.org.uk/spckdonate.htm (Support SPCK’s Booksellers, and the Phil Groom administered “fund”)

* Although the CM article was taken offline, it couldn’t be taken out of print: reproduced here: Breaking the Silence

For comparison: Cease and Desist: 6 Months On

Faking it in Canterbury and Google in a Kerfuffle

Phil Groom writes:

Thank you to Richard Long for bringing us this latest picture from Canterbury, showing the former SPCK/SSG all brightly painted and decked out as ‘Canterbury Christian Bookshop’:

Canterbury Christian Bookshop, 05/07/2009

Canterbury Christian Bookshop, July 2009

Richard writes:

I don’t actually know what the current status of the ‘Canterbury Christian Bookshop’ is, but anyone who has been following the saga of the former SPCK shops will not be surprised to learn that it was shut when we visited on a busy Saturday afternoon. Despite the fresh coat of red paint, hand-written signs on the door told a slightly different story. The shop appears to be open about 4 days a week, and was appealing for both volunteer staff and second-hand books.

Somewhat bizarrely, our dear friends at Google seem to have got themselves into a kerfuffle over who owns or operates or does whatever is being done to this particular shop as well: their search results link it to Canterbury City Council:

Google Search Result for 'Canterbury Christian Bookshop'

Google Search Result for 'Canterbury Christian Bookshop'

Maybe Google are right and there’s actually a religious revival going on in Canterbury — it is the seat of Archdruid Rowan, after all — but I suspect genuine confusion is closer to the truth; and if even Google are getting themselves so kerfuffulated, what chance is there for the rest of us?

The shop has certainly changed since the last photo we had back in February 2008 when Dave Walker posted about it. Dave’s original post isn’t available, of course, since Mr J Mark ‘Bully Boy’ Brewer huffed and puffed in his ultimately futile attempt to blow the evidence away this time last year, but here’s a screenshot from the archives at Cease & Desist:

In Canterbury - Dave Walker, 12 Feb 2008

In Canterbury - Dave Walker, 12 Feb 2008

The question now is who is responsible for this shop? If either Peter Gotham or Fergus Jack should happen to read this, I’d urge you, gentlemen: please get over there now and take control of the premises before there are any further unauthorised auctions, rebranding exercises or asset shuffling. Please don’t let Canterbury go the way of Exeter.

Thank you.

Tribunals: Next Round Begins

Phil Groom writes:

Please spare a thought and/or pray for everyone involved in the next round of Employment Tribunals, which start today.

The Charity Commission’s appointment of an Interim Manager is good news on the one hand in that at last an outside agency is responding to the Brewers depredations of the former SPCK bookshops; but on the other hand, the solicitors appointed by the Interim Manager have specific responsibility “to preserve the assets of the charity and contest the legal claims of the Usdaw members.”

Let justice roll on like a river!

USDAW Statement as reported on the Church Times blog:

St. Stephen the Great tribunal

The long-awaited first stage of the St. Stephen the Great tribunal is due to take place next week in Bury St. Edmunds, commencing Monday 11 May, and is scheduled to run for three days. This is a preliminary hearing to consider who the employer of the claimants was at the time they were dismissed (the charitable trust, or one of the two limited companies).

Since the date was arranged, the Charity Commission has been conducting an investigation into how the charitable trust has been run and has now used its powers under the Charities Act to intervene and appoint an interim manager to manage the affairs of the charity (in place of the previous trustees, who were the American-based Mark Brewer and other members of his family). The interim manager has, in turn, appointed new solicitors to preserve the assets of the charity and contest the legal claims of the Usdaw members.

These new solicitors asked the tribunal to postpone the hearing in order to allow extra time for them to get up to speed with the cases. But Usdaw objected, as our members had been waiting so long for their cases to be heard. The hearing will now commence on the Monday morning with legal arguments for and against the granting of a postponement of the tribunal.

Usdaw is hoping that the court will consider the best interests of the claimants, who have waited patiently for justice, three of whom will be travelling to Bury St. Edmunds to appear as test case witnesses on behalf of all those dismissed, and allow the case to continue on the day.