Saturday, May 02, 2009

Press statement in response to Durham Cathedral eviction of the Brewers

The following statement was issued yesterday by a group (which I'm part of) which keeps an eye on the former SPCK bookshop chain, and the questionable management practices of J Mark Brewer and Phil Brewer, the owners.

We welcome the statement today from the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral that notice has been served on the current operators and occupiers of Durham Cathedral Shop requiring them to vacate the premises on 30th April 2010. Bearing in mind that a petiton of almost 400 signatures was submitted to the Dean and Chapter in Autumn 2008, we would, have preferred action to have been taken far sooner.

The Durham Cathedral Bookshop has been the flagship shop in the chain, supplying much of the turnover and most of the profit, which has enabled the whole chain to stay afloat for the last three years.

Therefore this action - subject to any legal challenges or actions issued by J Mark and Phil Brewer through their management company - will, we hope, be the beginning of the end of the saga of serious mismanagement of the SPCK Bookshop chain from October 2006 to the present.

We are concerned that the time window until April 2010 will give the Brewers an opportunity to manipulate the business further for their personal benefit.

The Durham Shop continues to use the SPCK logo and materials, permission for which were withdrawn a long time ago, to trade with incorrect Employers' Liability Insurance, and to ignore obligations in the shop lease to stock a wide range of books. It has been an stain on the reputation of Durham Cathedral.

We have documented how sums in excess of $700,000 had been removed from the finances of the Durham Cathedral Bookshop under questionable circumstances to other businesses and charities controlled by the Brewers. Other monies from the Bookshop Chain had been spent in unusual ways for a charity, including the maintenance of an aeroplane owned by Phil Brewer, who was responsible for management of the Durham Cathedral Shop.

A large number of questions remain open for the former-SPCK bookshop chain:
* Instruction of staff - including staff at Durham - to lie to suppliers.

* Violations of the lease at Durham.
* The transfer - mentioned above - of at least $700,000 of assets out of the Durham shop.
* More than 30 employment tribunal claims.
* An attempt to take the organisation into Bankruptcy in the USA, which was "dismissed with prejudice", and the $1.6m which was declared as owing to suppliers. Significant property assets, viz. Freehold Bookshops, were not declared to the Bankruptcy Court, despite declarations made by J Mark Brewer under oath. To date the suppliers remain unpaid.
* Unpaid pensions and National Insurance contributions for staff,
* Bullying of staff.

Some of these issues, and others, require proper investigation by the authorities, resolution, and action where necessary.

Former SPCK staff have shown considerable success in reopening independent bookshops in towns where former-SPCK shops have closed. These locations include Lincoln, Cardiff and Norwich. As the debacle comes to an end, we look forward to this pattern continuing.

Finally, we would quote a comment left by Bishop Alan Wilson on our News Blog this week:
"The whole Brewer thing has been a learning experience for us all about the dangers in selling off bits of the family silver without checking that the people to whom it goes have the character or competence to handle it. These things call for light, not a conspiracy of darkness and silence".

For more information visit:
Matt Wardman

Phil Groom

There is more on the Wardman Wire, which seems to be a bit slow loading at the moment.

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