Tag Archives: St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust

Concerns about call for SPCK/SSG Creditors

Matt Wardman writes:

Following on from our previous posting about the call for creditors of the Saint Stehen the Great Charitable Trust to come forward within the next 2 weeks, only if they know that they are owed money from before July 2007, we have written to relevant magazines raising these concerns:

  • The complexity of the history of this whole affair, and the deliberate obfuscation introducd by the Messrs Brewer,  makes it very difficult for potential creditors to know whether they come within the restrictions laid down, or not.
  • 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 – far beyond the book trade.
  • 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?
  • Does this adequately meet legal requirements for informing creditors?

We are not publishing the full text of the letters here until after they have been published in the magazines and newspapers concerned, for obvious reasons.

We have not raised several further points, because we are not sure ourselves what difference they make, and would make our letters even longer than they are already:

Interim Manager's Notice

  1. The Interim Manager is in control of the two charities “Saint Stephen the Great”(1119839), and “Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust” (1119839-1).
  2. The Charity Commission website states that he controls the former, and he has himself declared himself to be in control of the latter when claiming possession of shops.
  3. These charities were forcibly merged by the Charity Commission around 23 July 2007.

So what is the basis for taking responsibility for actions of one charity only? Shouldn’t creditors of both of these charities be able to seek redress for debts incurred over a far greater period of time?

In any case:

  • Given the complexity, and lack of clarity, in this history, all creditors, and potential creditors, should 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 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 July 2007.
  • We also hope that the deadline for responses will be extended to a more realistic period, perhaps to the end of January 2010.

There may be more, as and when we have (or understand) it.

Statement from the Charity Commission in Christian Marketplace

Phil Groom writes:

The July issue of Christian Marketplace is now available, with a report on the current situation on p.6, More closures at SSG bookshops. The report includes the following statement issued by the Charity Commission on 10th June:

Concerns were raised with the Charity Commission relating to governance and internal financial controls at St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust and St Stephen the Great (both registered under charity number 1119839). We contacted the trustees with regard to the issues raised with us. On the basis both of the initial concerns raised with the Commission and of the information provided by the charity in response, on 26 September 2008 we opened a statutory enquiry under section 8 of the Charities Act 1993

On 28 April 2009, as a temporary and protective measure, the Charity Commission appointed Peter Gotham of Begbies Traynor as Interim Manager of St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust. Because this inquiry remains open and ongoing we would not be in a position to go into further detail at this time, but we intend, as is normal procedure, to publish a statement of the results of the inquiry setting out our findings once the inquiry is completed.

Brewers Skewered as Charity Commission Takes Action – Part 2

What are they saying about CBC/CRE?
For behind the scenes conversations, follow these twitter hashtags:

Phil Groom writes:

Thanks to Mark Bennet, who explains a little of what this situation means:

The interim manager’s job is to obtain control of the assets and to ensure that they are used for the Charitable purposes for which they were intended. I would hesitate to say that someone just appointed would have control of all the assets, but they will be moving quickly to obtain such control, and also to trace any assets which have ‘gone missing’.

Whether this is good news so far as the USDAW cases are concerned is unclear, since court awards cannot be paid if there are no assets to pay them. However, it should bring some much-needed clarity to the situation.

Here is an official explanation:

Interim Managers: 2007/08

An excerpt from that page:

The Charity Commission has the power to appoint an Interim Manager [1] to act as a receiver over a charity’s property. We can use this power only after opening a formal Inquiry under section 8 of the Charities Act 1993 (as amended by the 2006 Act) and after we have obtained evidence of misconduct or mismanagement in the administration of a charity or if it is necessary to protect the charity’s property.

Usually we appoint an Interim Manager to manage a charity to the exclusion of the trustees and the charity normally has to pay the Interim Manager’s fees. For this reason we appoint an Interim Manager only after very careful consideration of other possible solutions to the problems the charity in question faces. Where possible, appointments are made after a tender exercise, the purpose of which is to find an Interim Manager with the right skills and experience at a price that will provide the charity with value for money.

Although we can make appointments with the agreement of the charity trustees, most are imposed because in our view the problems facing the charity are sufficiently serious and the trustees are either unwilling or unable to put matters right themselves.

Pursuing the Brewers: Contact Info, Facts and Resources

Phil Groom writes:

An unpaid supplier has asked for contact information for the Brewers with a possible view to pursuing them through the courts: I’ve posted the info I have at the bottom of this post, which is all a matter of public record, but I’d like to run through a few points before we get to that.

Suppliers Discussion Group

At the end of last year we set up a private online Suppliers Discussion Group in the hope of facilitating the possibility of a joint action and/or coordinated response. That group still exists: if you’re a supplier and would like to join the group, please request an invitation. Whether or not it achieves anything is entirely your call, of course, but if you simply sit there on the sidelines moaning that nothing’s happening and no one’s doing anything, what do you expect? Ask not Who’s going to do something? but What can I do?

Today is Good Friday and yes, if you take a stand there’s always the risk that, like Jesus, you’ll end up crucified. That’s part of the deal when you follow Jesus and if you didn’t take that on board when you signed up, that’s either because some evangelist wasn’t telling you the truth or because you didn’t read the small print, even though it’s writ large on every page of the Gospels. Christianity isn’t a shortcut to health-and-wealth: charlatans like the Brewers who use Christianity as a way to pimp their own egos and empires are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Sermon over: if you haven’t got it by now, you probably never will.

Taking a Stand

So what, in practice, has happened when people take a stand against the Brewers? They’ve been paid. Every case we have on record of either an individual or an organisation/company tackling the Brewers head-to-head has resulted in settlement; and when J Mark Brewer attempted to take himself to court in his bogus bankruptcy filing, the only thing he demonstrated was his own incompetence, to the point where the court threw him out as a laughing stock. The only way he was able to get out the hole he’d dug for himself was to hire another attorney to haul him out: the man is, quite frankly, an oaf. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, the facts are friendly. 

Cases Resolved So Far

1. Via this blog:

2. Listed by Brewer himself in the official SSG Statement of Financial Affairs (pdf) filed June 19, 2008, with the US Bankruptcy Court, Texas:

  • TBS, The Book Service: Stratford upon Avon County Court, refs PJS/091710 and  8SV00246, p.7.
  • Nick Johnson, refs 1806366/2007 and 1806489/2007, p.6.
  • Kirsty Smith, ref 7QT61858. Listed as ‘Pending’, p.6, but since resolved.*
  • Melanie Carroll, ref 2600803/2007, p.6.
  • Miss A C Speddings, ref 2801875/2007. Listed as ‘Pending’, p.6, but since resolved.*
  • Mike Pickering, ref 1502210/2007, p.6.

* Information supplied in private correspondence.

Most of these have been out of court settlements. Why? Because, quite simply, the Brewers know they don’t have a leg to stand on. The bankruptcy filing scam and the transfer of company assets to other companies were nothing more than a ruse set up in an attempt to evade SSG’s creditors: any review of the evidence will almost certainly result in them being laughed out of the court.

Certificate of Employers Liability Insurance

Certificate of Employers Liability Insurance

Furthermore, here in the UK, SSG has not gone into administration since the case was thrown out of the USA courts; and despite Philip W Brewer’s protestations that there was “no relationship going forward” between SSG and the Durham Cathedral Shop Management Co., we now have very clear evidence of precisely that continuing relationship in the form of the shop’s Certificate of Employers’ Liability Insurance issued in the name of St Stephen the Great Trust (Policy No. SB06000002/05ACI0125269) for the current period November 2008 – October 2009.

Whether a certificate issued in the name of one company to cover employees of what is ostensibly another company is valid is another matter, of course: I’ve asked Ecclesiastical for clarification. The point here, however, is that the Durham shop and, I’m told, the other shops are displaying this certificate: SSG accepts liability for the Durham shop employees. Any claims that the company has ceased trading and has no liability for other aspects of the shop’s business such as its debts are dubious at best if not complete codswallop. 

Thanks to Melanie Carroll for pointing out that the cost of starting a Small Claim through the Courts is relatively small — as little, in fact, as £25 for a claim up to £300 (Fees Leaflet [pdf]) if submitted via the Money Claim Online service, although this service requires an address in England or Wales where documents may be served. If you back up your claim with appropriate evidence — by visiting a shop and taking a photograph of an item you supplied but haven’t been paid for, for instance — you should be in with a good chance. See HMCS (Her Majesty’s Court Service) Making a Claim for practical guidance on submitting a claim or contact the HMCS Helpdesk.

Resources

Brewer Addresses

The Brewers’ addresses are a matter of public record:

1. From the SSG/SPCK Bankruptcy Filing documents:

J Mark & Philip W Brewer - addresses filed with the Texas Bankruptcy Courts

J Mark & Philip W Brewer - from the Texas Bankruptcy Court Documents

2. From Brewer & Pritchard PC, Contact Us page, which also includes a form for submitting messages directly online:

J Mark Brewer
Brewer & Pritchard, PC 
Three Riverway, 18th Floor
Houston, Texas 77056 
.
Phone: 713-209-2950
Fax: 713-659-5302
Email: brewer@bplaw.com
.

3. From Pima County Court Records, pdf | html (Links broken? Try a Google Search for P21-06-033)

Phil & Beth Brewer
2610 W Bountiful Lane
Tucson, AZ 85742
.

4. Phil Brewer’s Business Card, which he left lying around at asingleblog:

Brewer Enterprises

Brewer Enterprises

.

 

Disclaimer
For the avoidance of doubt: nothing included in this post (or any other post on this site) constitutes legal advice. Any action you may or may not take in response thereto and any consequences thereof are your own responsibility.

SSG at Companies House: “Status: Active – Proposal to Strike off”

Phil Groom writes:

SSG’s status at Companies House has been flagged as “Active – Proposal to Strike off”:

Status Active - Proposal to Strike off (Screenshot taken 23.01.2009)

Status Active - Proposal to Strike off (Screenshot taken 23.01.2009)

If allowed to go through this means that the company will cease to exist, and whilst in many ways that would qualify as the Event of the Decade, what it means in practice is that anyone with outstanding legal claims against the company will be unable to pursue them unless they are prepared to pay to have the company restored.

If that’s you, whether as an unpaid employee, unpaid supplier or in any other capacity, I suggest that you contact Companies House sharpish to advise them of your concerns. I’ve already emailed them an outline of the current situation and Matt Wardman has a concise list of points available that should make the Registrar sit up and take notice.  Please ask if you’d like a copy of either of these, either via the comments section on this page or privately.

St Osmond’s Hall, the company’s registered address, may be contacted here: 

More info about what’s involved and what it means for a company to be struck off the register of companies may be found in the Companies House FAQs and About Us sections:

My thanks to those who helped with tracking down this information: you know who you are. 

Download this post as a PDF

Download this post as a PDF

Breaking the Silence

Two Brewers - but watch out, there may be more...

Two Brewers - but watch out, there may be more...

Phil Groom writes:

Have been rummaging through my backcopies of Christian Marketplace and found the article J Mark Brewer had them take down from their website, from the July 2008 issue, Industry News, p.6. Reproduced below for those who missed it; and if that’s you, good news: if you’re involved in Christian retail, a church leader or responsible for a church bookstall, you need never miss another issue — head on over to the UKCBD Blog to find out how to pick up a FREE subscription: Keeping Up to Date, Getting Up to Speed.

Reading through the article, I can’t see anything that’s even remotely sanctionable let alone libellous. This is straightforward, factual reporting. But I can see plenty of reasons why dear old Marky warky, bless his devious little cotton socks, would have wanted to suppress it. 

Finally, a reminder for anyone pursuing the Brewers/SSG for debts: neither the St Stephen the Great trading company nor the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust is in fact bankrupt. They have not gone into administration; they have not been legally declared insolvent. The USA bankruptcy filing was thrown out as an attempted fraud on the courts. Don’t let them fob you off with false claims of bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy, closures, sackings…
From bad to worse at SSG

The SSG Bookshops story took a dramatic twist last month when it emerged that the company which owns the shops, St Stephen the Great – Limited Liability Company (SSG – LLC) had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the United States. Chapter 11 is a form of bankruptcy that allows a business to continue trading and pay creditors over time.

Mark Brewer informed all staff by email on 6th June that on 6th June that “SSG has been terminated as the trading company to operate the bookshops formerly known as SPCK bookshops” and that “SSG-LLC has been placed into reorganisation in U.S. Bankruptcy Court”.

The email also advised staff that, “The bookshops will now be operated by ENC Management Company. Former employees of SSG-LLC are invited to apply for a position with ENC Management Company. If you wish to apply, please reply to this email so indicating.”

The directors of ENC, which was registered at Companies House on 11th March 2008, are listed as Sandra K Brewer, Mark J Brewer and Philip W Brewer and its registered office is listed as the address of the Chester shop.

Staff in the Chester shop received an email on 2nd June from Philip Brewer advising them of the “change in ownership/management to ENC Management Company with effect from 1st June.” The email also advised staff that they could continue “employment at the Chester bookshop … by applying for a position with the new company” (ENC) and that this was “not a transfer of your employment under TUPE.”

USDAW, the shop staffs Trade Union, who have been advising staff over recent months, expressed concerns at the latest developments. Christine Peacock, Senior Legal Assistant at USDAW, told Christian Marketplace, “We are currently investigating what effect, if any, SSG’s filing for bankruptcy will have in the UK.”

Peacock confirmed that there are fifteen claims lodged in preparation for Industrial Tribunals. The first of these (Alison Speddings vs Mark Brewer) which was due to be heard from Monday 9th June at the Sheffield Employment Tribunal, was adjourned because of the ‘bankruptcy’ situation and neither Mark nor Phil Brewer were in attendance.

She also said that USDAW were aware that ENC Management Company is also owned by the Brewer brothers and were “currently taking advice on the validity of these actions. We are concerned that they will have the effect of moving the assets to a place which means that there are no assets available to settle the claims.”

The Charity Commission are also to undertake an investigation into SSG; a spokesman confirmed that they are “currently considering whether this raises any issues for the Charity Commission to take forward.”

At the time of writing it appears that thirteen of the 24 shops originally passed onto SSG are now closed. A number have closed since the bankruptcy announcement, including Chester, Newcastle, Norwich and Worcester. A further three are independently open with doubts about the status on another four.

Currently there are three companies running the remaining bookshops. In addition to ENC there is Durham Shop Management Co. and Chichester Shop Management Co. and the listed directors are the same for all three.

Mark Brewer has again been asked to comment on the current developments but has not responded to any request.

Cease and Desist: 6 Months On

Phil Groom writes:

Today, January 21st 2009, marks exactly 6 months to the day from when J Mark Brewer sent out his first Cease and Desist message in an attempt to silence the bloggers before his spurious bankruptcy filing was raked over in the Texas courts.

Fortunately for me but unfortunately for him, I was on holiday at the time, cruising the Thames on a narrowboat: the first I heard of it was when Clem Jackson, my Editor at Christian Marketplace, left a message on my mobile to tell me that the Bruisers, sorry, Brewers (never could spell), were getting uppity and threatening him, Dave Walker and myself with libel action unless we took down certain pages from our respective websites.

With no internet access there was nothing I could do anyway and I wasn’t inclined to cut my holiday short simply to respond to Mark Brewer’s attempts at intimidation — but I’ve told the story up to that point before so rather than retell it here, I thought I’d simply repost his first Cease and Desist letter here, in full, to allow us to compare what he wanted with what we’ve delivered:

From:   Brewer@bplaw.com
Subject: Demand to Cease and Desist
Date: 21 July 2008 18:04:17 BDT
To:   Phil Groom, Clem Jackson

Sirs:

I just visited your site dedicated to the destruction of my personal reputation and that of Saint Stephen the Great/Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust.  I am absolutely appalled and devastated by what you have written as well as by what you have encouraged and allowed to be posted on your various sites – especially after your last written communication to me, below which ended “Assuring you of my prayers.”

You have successfully blocked my efforts to get my and SSG’s side of the story out.  You have done this with your sites and Mr. Walker’s with whom you obviously collaborate.  No matter what I say or do not say, the three of you continue your relentless attacks on me and the charities.  You have now broadened your attacks to include my wife, my daughter and my religion.  You will obviously stop at nothing.  You must, therefore, be stopped.

When I do not respond to your vile and defamatory words, you pretend that you are such an important person that ‘how dare anyone not answer you.’  When I do respond, you hold me up to even greater ridicule and invite others to do the same.  I am dumfounded that any Christian ethos purportedly allows one to do that.

You now are doing your best to interfere with the Charitable Trust’s efforts to salvage what remains of the business of the bookshops, scornfully mocking these efforts at every turn.

This is not right and you have gone way too far.

Your statements are false and I categorically deny them – both for me, my family and SSG/SSGCT.  Nearly all of them are defamatory per se.

I therefore am going to say this as clearly as I can:  I am a private individual and I value my privacy.  I am not a public figure such that you have the right to drag my name and my family’s names through the mire.  I do not consent to you contacting me about your alleged enquiries.  I do not consent and object to you maintaining websites about me, SSG, SSGCT, ENC Management, my brother, my wife, or my daughter.  I do not consent to you posting blogs on the internet.  I do not consent to you defaming me to any other party or person by “sharing” your false allegations.

 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”)

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

You’ll find my original responses to Mark’s allegations and demands in the following series of posts:

It’s interesting looking back: up to this point, I hadn’t been collaborating with anyone. But I am now — not with Dave Walker, sadly, but with dozens of other bloggers; and whilst I was reporting relatively light-heartedly before, I think it’s fair to say that I’ve become relentless since: both the very opposite to what Mark wanted.

As for Mark’s wife and daughter, up to this point I hadn’t even been aware of their involvement; but I am now — and I can find no words adequate to describe my feelings about the kind of man who drags his own wife and daughter into the sort of double-dealings and dishonesty we’ve now witnessed.

Meanwhile, of course:

  1. We have more pages than ever tagged “Mark Brewer”;
  2. The Unicorn Tree Books Blog is still going strong;
  3. Whilst the specific Christian Marketplace report Mark took exception to has gone, there are plenty of others still there;
  4. My report Betrayed by the Brewers: Lies, Damned Lies and St Stephen the Great is still there — with a follow up;
  5. And the Support SPCK’s Booksellers page and fund remain open…

All in all, it strikes me as a fairly spectacular own goal for Mr Brewer. So I’ll say it again: if you’re reading this, Mark, and you’d like me to Cease and Desist, there are three initial steps you need to take:

  1. Pay your former employees
  2. Pay your suppliers
  3. Withdraw your threats of legal action

But now there are some further steps:

4. Give your ill-begotten gains from the sale of the Exeter shop to SPCK;
5. Cease and Desist from your plundering of the former SPCK bookshops;
6. Give (as in freely, without expecting any sort of remuneration) the shops to people who, unlike yourself, can be trusted to run them with honesty and integrity according to a Christian ethos.

Six steps for six months: seems reasonable to me; and then there’s the small matter of making a donation to the Save the SPCK Booksellers fund yourself, Mark, by way of reparation for demanding its removal…