Blogger Threatened with Libel Action from SPCK Bookshops Owner

From the Wardman Wire (link added):

We have another blogosphere Libel Action…

Dave Walker [back-up site here – RB], the official Lambeth Conference Cartoonist in Residence, has taken 75 posts down on his blog after being threatened with Libel Action by the new owner of SPCK – the oldest chain of Anglican Bookshops. He has been reporting the story of alleged mismanagement for two years.

I blogged on the take-over back in 2006. I used to live in a town with an SPCK (“Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge”) bookshop, and it was an incredible resource for intelligent books about religion, including serious Biblical scholarship. In 2006 the shops were sold off by the SPCK to an Orthodox American organisation called the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust. The new owner, Mark Brewer, had religious objections to the range of materials available in SPCK bookshops – in particular, the Koran. The Church Times noted

…Concerns over Islam are apparent on the SSG’s website, where the charity reports: “England has not only become extremely secularised in recent years, but has witnessed the explosion of Islam. . . In an effort to stem the growth of non-Christian faiths and re-establish Christianity in areas where it has been driven out, the Trust has acquired a beautiful building [the redundant St Mary Magdalene’s] in Bradford. (This city has one of the highest percentages of resident Muslims in the UK.)”

Text on the website has been amended since the Church Times published the report announcing the partnership. References to the “misguided beliefs” of those who turned to the Roman Catholic Church, and other references to the Orthodox Church as “the only Church true to the Word of God, and therefore the only one that offers true salvation and eternal life”, have been removed.

Brewer claims that ongoing criticism in the Church Times has been motivated by the fact that the Times‘ owner (SCM-Canterbury) controls some rival bookshops. However, allegations of mismanagement proliferated, and in June the Worcestor local branch manager Steve Jeynes committed suicide after being made redundant. Around the same time, SSG filed for liquidation in the US. The Bookseller reported:

Three weeks ago brothers Phil and Mark Brewer, who run the charity, told staff and publishers that SSG LLC, the trading company that operates the former SPCK chain, had filed for protection from its creditors under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code—a form of bankruptcy that allows a business to continue trading.

However, Verlie Rios, a court clerk in Houston, told The Bookseller that this had been converted to Chapter 7 bankruptcy in court. “It basically means the business is in liquidation,” she said. “There will be a meeting for creditors on 22nd July.”

However, not all has gone to plan, as the Church Times now reports:

THE OWNERS of the former SPCK bookshops chain have been halted by inconsistencies in their petition from declaring themselves bankrupt in a United States court. They are said to owe thousands of dollars to hundreds of creditors.

The Bankruptcy Court in Houston, Texas, has issued a notice that says it intends to dismiss the motion for bankruptcy unless it hears from the owners by Monday 4 August.

Randy W. Williams, the trustee of the bankruptcy courts, had filed the motion to dismiss the bankruptcy motion because, he said, the company that petitioned for bankruptcy, “St Stephens the Great LLC”, did not exist. What did exist was “St Stephens the Great”, which bore the same name and same tax code as the charity in the UK that took over SPCK shops’ staff and assets. It is with that charity that many creditors were in dispute….Mr Williams said that it was not in the best interest of the “extensive” creditors that the proceedings should be so far from the UK, where almost all the “tangible business” took place.

Meanwhile, Unity at Ministry of Truth has done some further digging, finding gems such as:

SPCK’s remaining bookshops, including those in Durham and Chichester Cathedrals have been transferred to companies called ENC Shop Management Co, Durham Shop Management Co, and Chichester Shop Management Co. all of which are listed on Companies House as foreign companies (Houston registered, again) and all having the same secretary and directors…


(Hat tip: Dave Cole)

UPDATE: Talk Islam draws attention this blog on the subject.