Employment Tribunal awards Redundancy Payments to Durham Cathedral Shop Staff

Cross-posted from SPCK/SSG News, Notes & Info. Matt Wardman reports, and concludes with a number of questions about some of the loose ends left hanging in this long-running saga — to which I’ve added another and to which you, gentle reader, may wish to add your own, either in the comments here or on the original post

Durham Cathedral Shop Employees win Redundancy Payout

This news is very much of the ‘we were tipped into a swamp and lost nearly everything, but we escaped the alligators with our lives after each losing half a leg’ variety, but the staff at Durham Cathedral Shop have — 4 years after the saga to which SPCK/SSG News, Notes & Info is devoted kicked off  —received some more good news. It has been ruled that when the staff of the Durham Cathedral Shop were thrown out of their jobs in January 2010, it constituted redundancy and unfair dismissal.

Since Mark and Phil Brewer have done a vanishing trick after running the business into the ground (don’t forget that Phil Brewer used the shop to fund his Trotter-Trading Yellow private aeroplane, and that hundreds of thousands of pounds simply went missing), the Judge rules that payment can be made from State funds.

I should also say that this decision was by a previous shop management, and the shop — and particularly the staff — deserve full support.

Employment Tribunal Report

An Employment Tribunal held on Wednesday 24th August 2011 in Newcastle, and this is a report of the proceedings.

A sorry tale which has been going on for some time has now come to this.”

The opening comment by Mr Jim Shepherd, Employment Judge, at the Employment Tribunal held on Wednesday 24th August 2011 in Newcastle, between the claimants, the staff of the Durham Cathedral Shop, and the Durham Cathedral Shop Management Company and the Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills.

The start of the tale was on 22nd January 2010, when the staff of the Durham Cathedral Shop were all dismissed. The shop was one of the 23 SPCK Bookshops taken over in 2006 by the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust run by American brothers, Mark and Phil Brewer. In 2008 the Durham shop’s management transferred to the Durham Cathedral Shop Management Company, a new company set up by the Brewer brothers. By January 2010 Durham was the only shop remaining under their control, and was a poor shadow of the flagship shop it had been in SPCK days. Phil Brewer contacted the staff and said the company had financial difficulties and he needed to talk to the Cathedral Chapter. On 22nd January 2010 the staff were summoned by the Chapter Clerk, following his discussion with Phil Brewer, and were told the shop was to close immediately. The staff received no written notice of dismissal, were not consulted in accordance with UK employment law and did not receive wages due to them, severance payment nor redundancy payment.

The staff were represented by Sara Devennie, of Beecham & Peacock, Newcastle solicitors, who were instructed by the trade union USDAW, of which all the staff are members. Beecham & Peacock received no fee for this work as part of their on-going commitment to a number of trade unions to fight for the rights of workers.

The Tribunal were presented with the detailed and complicated facts of the case, and ruled that it was unfair dismissal and redundancy. The Secretary of State’s office had investigated the solvency of the Durham Cathedral Shop Management Company and stated it was not insolvent and was still registered as a company, with the registered trading address as the Durham Cathedral Shop. However, the Tribunal Judge stated he felt it unlikely that any money would be forthcoming from the USA.

By ruling that redundancy had occurred, the Judge legalised the claim for state redundancy payments to be made by the Secretary of State. Payments of between £2,000 and £11,000 were awarded to the staff.

The Durham Cathedral Shop, under the management of Durham Cathedral, re-opened on 1st March 2010, and all of the former staff have been re-employed by Durham Cathedral.

That is excellent news, and congratulations go especially to the one member of staff who persevered with the claim. Perhaps ways can now finally be found to look forward at Durham.

Remaining Questions

There are still some very serious questions around the whole SPCK saga, which I hope will be addressed somehow.

The Brewers still deserve to be brought to book for offences committed throughout the last several years. These include the magically vanishing funds from Durham Cathedral Shop mentioned above.

But there is also the small matter of money specifically given for the support of Christian Bookselling in Newcastle, and placed in a separate fund after the sale of the Bible House Bookshop, which seems to have been misappropriated during the time of Management by the Brewer Brothers. Specifically, monies were allocated for improvements to the premises of SPCK Newcastle which – as far as we are aware – were never done. The sum involved was 5 figures.

Questions around the Governance of SPCK itself, and decisions made.

And the whole question of who is going to learn which lessons from this whole Godawful Mess, and whether they actually have been learned?

Stand Up SPCK Up

To Matt’s questions I would add: what of the Durham Cathedral and Chapter’s culpability and liability? Collusion with the Brewers in continuing to allow them to trade, failure to evict them, and — by far the worst blot in their copybook — an abysmal failure in their duty of care towards workers on their premises…

Reports Elsewhere…

One thought on “Employment Tribunal awards Redundancy Payments to Durham Cathedral Shop Staff

  1. The bulk of the Bible House fund in Newcastle is still intact (see current SPCK Annual Accounts) in a separate Trust Fund, as, fortunately, SPCK realised the money allocated for shop improvements had not been spent on such matters so pulled the plug. It would be wonderful if the litigation with the Brewers regarding ownership of the freehold shops (also reported in the SPCK Annual Report) could also be settled so that someone in Newcastle could re-open the shop, but I suspect Mark Brewer is fighting the issue of the shops all the way.

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