Monday, December 01, 2008

Former SPCK Bookshops: warning, house of cards close to collapse.

Those of you who've been following the sad saga of the former SPCK bookshops here, and the campaign against censorship of bloggers who reported on it, might like to know that:

1. There is now a Charity Commission investigation into the company who now run the shops.
2. Trading Standards are also investigating.
3. The Northern Echo have picked up on the petition to remove the Durham Cathedral shop from the control of the new owners, and there has been some correspondence exchanged (or not!) between the Cathedral, the petitioners, and suppliers to the shop.

Finally, Matt Wardman has a detailed but fascinating post today on the missing thousands of £ in the SSG/ENC/Durham shop accounts, and where it all might have got to. It raises a host of issues, including how the Durham shop managed to create a debt (according to the SSG paperwork) of 70% of its turnover, and why money was being paid to a flying club in Cornwall rather than to bookshop suppliers.

Matt concludes

To recap:
Durham Cathedral Shop Management Company to SSGCT: $165,000 in 11 weeks in spring 2008.
SSGCT to “Orthodox Christian Mission Fund”: $342,000 in 12 months to June 2008.
SSGCT payments in legal feed: around $200,000 in 12 months to June 2008.

Surely it is time that someone asked the Fraud Squad to at least run a slide-rule over this little lot to make sure that it is all legal? What it amounts to is J Mark and Phil Brewer diverting hundreds of thousands of pounds from ex-SPCK bookshops to a private “Orthodox” setup, and the ex-SPCK Bookshops being charged around $200,000 for legal fees within a 12 month period. On top of that there are even larger alleged debts still owed in the purported Bankruptcy Documents submitted by J Mark Brewer to the South Texas Bankruptcy Court.

And then there is the initial 9-month period about which nothing is known whatsoever. How much money was transferred out to the Orthodox Christian Mission Fund and charged in legal fees in that period, when - presumably - the chain was stronger?

We need a hero or a group of heroes. Can I politely suggest that it is time that somebody who had a business relationship with this organisation took some action to start a legal process in the UK to resolve this? I can’t do that, because they don’t owe me any money.

What is needs to start is someone who is owed money by the Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust to put the Trust into liquidation in the UK under UK Law, as that will get the authorities and the regulators involved - and will at least start to take the lid off the can of worms.
I have no idea how much money you will get back - which will depend on the UK framework of company and bankruptcy law, but it will be a good deed...

....Then eventually book enthusiasts and local communities that used to depend on SPCK bookshops and the programmes they used to run can start to pick up at least some of the pieces. And when more new well-run bookshops start to emerge, the suppliers to the trade will have a chance to recover.

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