Nearly 5 months ago now, the new owners of SPCK books, the Society of St. Stephen the Great (in the person of head honcho Mark Brewer) started sending libel threats to various bloggers who were reporting their activities. To say it backfired is an understatement of, if not Biblical, then perhaps Shakespearean proportions. If you're averse to the sound of unpleasant things hitting an electrically powered rotating air circulation device, then look away now.
the current charge list against SSG and its various manfestations is...
- Charity Commission investigation
- Trading Standards investigation
- Failed attempt to get company declared bankrupt in US (thus avoiding having to pay over 100 suppliers and former staff in the UK)
- Industrial tribunals on behalf of over 30 staff, which after a case conference last week have started paying out (see the comments on the link), but we don't yet know how much everyone will get. £7,000 is a start.
- Questions about VAT
- Contributions paid by employees to pension funds gone AWOL - they have come out of wage packets, but not gone into the pension fund, so where are they?
- NI contributions gone AWOL, in pretty much the same way.
- Some very strange movements of funds in the weeks before Mark Brewer tried to get SSG declared bankrupt in the USA. According to court paperwork, 6 figure sums moved out of the bookshops into other organisations owned by the Brewers whilst suppliers and staff remained unpaid.
SSG relaunched itself as 'ENC management company' a few months ago, with 2 other organisations running the shops in Durham (the flagship store, in the precincts of the ancient cathedral) and Chichester. The petition to save the store from the Brewers has been picked up by the local press. If you want to read or sign the petition, or see the comments made on it go here. 338 people have signed at time of writing, and each new block of 50 is forwarded to the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral. Cathedral staff have responded to the petition, and it looks like work is going on in the background, but judging by how quiet it's being kept, it probably involves lawyers.
A new petition to save the Chichester shop, launched in the last week, which has already reached the attention of the Diocesan hierarchy, though they may be a little distracted at the moment. Approaching 100 signatories at time of writing, one of whom comments:
As a former SPCK Bookshop manager, I have first-hand experience of the suffering the Brewers put their employees through and the contempt with which they treat customers, landlords and suppliers. Their business ethics are deplorable and the Church of England should play no part in allowing them to make divisive, anti-ecumenical mischief on church property. Get them out and provide the backing (as for Norwich) for the current manager and former staff to provide a valuable, Christ-centred and well-run ecumenical resource centre.
A sad final chapter for a great bookshop chain.