Thursday, January 22, 2009

SPCKing up: 6 months of supporting Dave Walker

On 22nd July, blogger and cartoonist Dave Walker was threatened with legal action by the new owners of SPCK bookshops, unless he immediately stopped reporting on their actions. Since he was packing for Lambeth at the time, Dave removed all 80-odd posts about the Society of St. Stephen the Great and their later incarnations.

At the same time, blogger Phil Groom also recieved a legal threat, but being on holiday at the time, he returned to find that dozens of bloggers had reposted Dave's material, (one of whom, Sam Norton, also got a libel threat for his pains) and a Facebook group set up to support Dave already had over 100 members. So Phil continued to blog the story at his SPCK/SSG blog.

The reasons for the attempted censorship were pretty clear. Allegations of mismanagement and staff bullying were already circulating, legal action was in process by several former staff members against SSG (the first case to be heard has been awarded in favour of the shop worker), and Mark Brewer, the chairman of SSG, was trying to get the company declared bankrupt in the USA. This would enable them to avoid paying £100,000s in debt to a range of suppliers, never mind outstanding wages and pension contributions for staff.

The bankruptcy attempt failed, and since then various other misdemeanours have come to light. The company is now subject to a Charity Commissioners investigation, and there are serious questions on a range of other issues - there's a list here.

So far, none of Brewers legal threats have been followed up. I'm sure that's down in part to the hundreds of people who have shown their support for Dave, Phil and the SPCK staff. Now that court decisions are going against SSG, there is a chance that justice will be done, but the Brewers have been conspicuously absent from public comment since they tried to censor the blogosphere back in July.

So we're still here, and we're not going away. And by the way, Mr Brewer, if you're reading this there's still the small matter of a letter that 500 of us sent you which you've still not got round to replying to.

Dave Walkers posts on SPCK bookshops are all viewable here.

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