Sunday, January 31, 2010

Durham Cathedral SPCK/SSG: the Last Post

The final curtain has fallen in Durham on Phil and Mark Brewers bruising foray into UK bookselling. The good news that Durham Cathedral is sticking to its promise to re-open the shop under Cathedral management. Earlier this week the shop was suddenly closed (probably by email - that seems to be the Brewers preferred way of laying people off), following some rapid reshuffling of stock the week before as snow and frost damage started affecting the Great Kitchen, main site of the bookshop.

Church Times (subscriber only till Friday 5th Feb)
SPCK/SSG News Notes and Info (comments too)

According to the Northern Echo, the Cathedral has said that it will re-employ the 6 current staff, though it has longer term plans to do a feasibility study on the best site for a bookshop. I just hope that what was once a flagship theological bookshop doesn't get lost: it must be tempting for Cathedrals to follow the dollar and stock teatowels, fudge and union jack merchandise to pay for the biblically proportioned heating and maintenance bills. Durham used to be an excellent theological bookshop, and with a university and two training colleges on the doorstep, there must still be a market there if it can recover its reputation. The comments of the chapter clerk in the Echo report suggest that the bookshop and gift shop might be separate entities.

The Echo also notes: Neither the Brewers nor the Saint Stephen the Great Trust could be contacted for comment. Now there's a surprise.

Someone who I think is one of the bookshop staff has commented on the Durham Cathedral Facebook page: "We are devasted but I'm sure that the new shop will be a fantastic one. Thanks to our customers and friends for their support."

There is still some unfinished business:
- Unpaid staff, and issues over pension payments
- Brewer creditors, and whether they'll see their money again. However, unless creditors are prepared to pursue the Brewers through the courts (oh for a workable extradition treaty with the USA!), it's unlikely that the bills will be paid.
- The nature of the settlement with former staff who settled out of court with the Charity Commissioners in 2009.

Last I heard Phil Brewer owned a private plane (sorry, originally called this a 'jet', which isn't accurate - see comments. Got a bit carried away...) and Mark Brewer ran a law firm with 7 attorneys plus support staff, and regularly dealt with million dollar cases. They are named as the trustees of the Society of St. Stephen the Great (which originally took on the bookshops from SPCK), and the Directors of ENC Management (which took over from SSG, leaving all SSG bills unpaid and zeroing the Brewer debts at a stroke). I still can't work out how they get to walk away from all this. I also can't work out how Mark Brewer gets full marks for ethics.

As the title suggest, this is probably my last post on the SPCK/SSG campaign. Well done to Phil Groom, Dave Walker and Matt Wardman for being the backbone of it, lets hope and pray the Christian book trade can learn some lessons - they've certainly come at a price.


  1. That full marks for ethics thingy reflects very badly on the rating system. It obviously doesn't mean a thing. Perhaps someone ought to tell them.

  2. Thanks for all your support, David. Would love to see some of those creditors with enough determination to pursue the toxic twosome, but somehow I don't think it's gonna happen. Sad.

  3. I think Phil Brewer's "Private Jet" has been a little exaggerated. It's an Aeronca Chief - a sweet little aeroplane (photo here ) It's probably worth around £15,000 - enough to pay some wages - it's still registered to Mark Brewer but not a private jet.

    They get to walk away since their assets are in another country and no-one is owed enough to make it worth trying to bankrupt them through the American courts - although I get the SW District court in Houston might be sympathetic...

  4. Phil Brewers plane has been downgraded to something closer to the truth. Thanks for pointing that out - I'd realised it was a mistake when drafting the post but forgotten to correct it.

  5. The full marks for ethics is outrageous! Mark Brewer is a worthless vulture and a very, very unethical lawyer! I'm a lawyer in Houston and know what I am talking about. So sorry about what he did in the UK, he's been doing quite a bit of harm here in the US as well.

  6. Anonymous (the last one!) - would UK folk with claims against Brewer have recourse to the US courts, or is he riding off into the sunset?

    One concern of some of us campaigners is to make folk in the USA aware of the Brewers management style, so that others on your side of the pond don't suffer as people have over here. From what you say perhaps that's not required. Having said that, the only material currently on the web about the Brewers is either SPCK related, or specialist legal sites like the one which gave Mark B 5 out of 5.