Dave Walker capitulates on ex-SPCK bookshops

Dave Walker, cartoonist and blogger extraordinaire, blogger for the Church Times, friend of bishops (he’s the one on the right) and hanger-on (when they let him in) at the Lambeth conference, has shown what he is made of – that it is the typical spineless stuff of British Anglicans, who typically give in to every demand from Americans. (Well, the same is true of British politicians.) For in his fight to save the former SPCK bookshops, sold off for a song to the American Eastern Orthodox group St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSGCT, or just SSG), Dave has capitulated at the first shot from his American opponents.

Dave writes today:

This morning I was sent a ‘cease and desist’ demand from Mark Brewer relating to the posts I have made about the former SPCK bookshops. The demand says ‘Confidential – not to be redistributed or posted’, so I am not posting the text.

The demand says that if I do not remove all SSG-related material by noon today, July 22, 2008, an injunction will be sought against me and legal action taken for damages for libel.

I have therefore removed all of the SPCK/SSG posts on this blog, as, although I believe I have not done anything wrong I do not have the money to face a legal battle. The removal of these posts is in no way an admission of guilt.

To say I am not happy about the decision I have been forced to take here is an understatement. I feel as if I have let many people down who have relied on this site over the last year or more.

Mark Brewer is an American lawyer and chairman of SSGCT.

But, Dave, you have not been forced to make this decision. Mark Brewer is making an empty threat. I am not a lawyer, but it is quite clear even to me that the material you posted about the bookshops is at least for the most part perfectly legal. There can be no question of libel concerning the matters of fact in the public domain which make up the great majority of what you have written, and of the comments which you have allowed. You have routinely removed comments which might be considered defamatory. There may be minor specific matters which could be judged defamatory and so which you should remove. But in demanding a general removal of all material Mark Brewer does not have a leg to stand on. This is a basic issue of your freedom of expression, which is protected under national and international law. As bloggers we need to stand up against threats of this kind.

British courts do not take kindly to clever American lawyers trying to take out injunctions against ordinary people to stop them doing what they have a perfect right to do. If Brewer actually brings this to court, which is unlikely, he will be sent packing.

My advice, as a non-lawyer, to you would be to reinstate the posts and write back to Mark Brewer. You should say that you will not remove all the material because at least the majority of it is factual and therefore not defamatory, and you have a legal right to post it as a matter of freedom of expression. I suggest you also offer to remove any specific sections of posts or comments which they can demonstrate to you as being defamatory. The very least that will do is gain you some time as they will be forced to read all of your material to select some of it. If they send back a short list of items they would like removed, then comply or at least edit out what is truly defamatory. If they insist again on a blanket removal, offer to see them in court.

If you need legal advice but can’t afford to pay for it, I am sure there are people around who will offer this as part of their work to protect human rights in this country. Newspapers of course have legal teams to protect the rights of expression of their correspondents. I’m sure that even the Church Times has, and they may help you, but then they are British Anglicans.

Phil Groom’s blog about the former SPCK bookshops is still accessible, at least as I write. I wonder how long it will last. Probably at least until Phil returns from his holiday, as if he has been sent a similar letter to Dave’s he will not receive it until he returns. But I hope Phil is made of sterner stuff than Dave and does not capitulate to empty threats from the Brewers.

40 thoughts on “Dave Walker capitulates on ex-SPCK bookshops

  1. Peter

    I think you are being very unfair calling him spineless. Very unfair in fact.

    You do not know Dave’s situation, what legal entanglements may mean for him personally or any other situation.

    I think you ought to retract this post.

  2. I’m glad you posted on this and I agree with a lot of what you have said. I think Dave should have kept the stuff up. However, the first sentence having the phrase, “that it is the typical spineless stuff of British Anglicans” is an unnecessary overgeneralisation and, as a British Anglican, rather offensive. Put the broad brush away and stick to what you do well.

  3. Pete – I was at the Lambeth Conference yesterday and Dave is up to his eyeballs with the Conference. Rather than being spineless Dave has taken an easy but temporary root in removing the SPCK stuff. On Phil Groom’s blog, no one can currently comment as I have put that on stop as the other moderator. What I can not do is temporarily remove the posts, as it is not my blog I can not do so. I have also not recieved any legal notification and have done this as a precautionary measure. My guess is that Mark Brewer is attempting to bully people and as soon as those of us who can find out more can do so and can speak out we will do.

  4. Ian, I base what I wrote on what Dave has said about his own situation. He did also invite comment with “I cannot of course stop you writing about this elsewhere.” If he is misleading me and others, he has only himself to blame.

    Mark, I should perhaps have said that I am a British Anglican myself. See other things I have written about the Anglican Communion. There are of course some laudable exceptions to the general spinelessness, but not among the people in charge.

    Phelim, by “spineless” I mean more or less the same as your “taken an easy route”. But Dave did not write that he was doing anything temporary. I hope that he is, and will restore the material when he has time to think about it. I must say I don’t see his last few posts at the Cartoon Blog as the work of someone “up to his eyeballs”, but maybe things have changed in the last couple of days.

  5. I’m sorry Peter, but there is something very grace-less about your post. Even if he invited comment, he does not deserve to be called spineless and accused of lacking ‘sterner’ stuff.

    You should carefully consider your approach on this post, and remember that it is a Christian brother, not just an abstract blogger that you are talking about.

  6. Ian, I am well aware that Dave is a person, my Christian brother with whom I have a relationship. That actually makes it more likely, rather than less, that I will use such language. I can be more open with my friends, even only blogging and Facebook ones like Dave, than I can with faceless strangers. I wrote this in the hope of stinging Dave into showing that he is not in fact spineless, by standing up to the Brewers and restoring the posts.

    I note that David Keen, Matt Wardman and Doug Chaplin have also posted on this matter. The latter two posted after me but apparently independently of me, as they do not acknowledge my post. See also the update in this post. Matt Wardman could be an important support and adviser for Dave in this matter.

  7. Pingback: Blogger bludgeoned by bozos « Lingamish

  8. Dave Walker has now removed his post about removing his SPCK-related posts. But he has not restored the other posts. Actually the older posts seem to have been removed more effectively in that they don’t show up at all in the category search whereas today’s post shows up as “Post removed”.

    Dave, if you are reading this and want me to remove my post as well, please contact me by comment or e-mail, let me know what is happening, and explain why I should remove my post.

  9. Peter, I agree with Ian and Joe – I find your reaction graceless, uncharitable, politically naive and wholly lacking in spiritual discernment. Who are you to judge how many resources (personal, spiritual and economic) are available for Dave to draw on in carrying on this fight? Not only have you not seen the whole of the cease and desist order but, as you admit, you are not a lawyer, so why are you so confident of your own righteousness that you can call Dave ‘spineless’? How is that helping him to bear his burden, or discern the right way forward?

    I think that the least you owe Dave is an apology. I would also recommend some soul-searching, for I find it astonishing, not only that you could write such a piece in the first place, but that you could subsequently comment “I wrote this in the hope of stinging Dave into showing that he is not in fact spineless, by standing up to the Brewers and restoring the posts.” I would call that manipulation, and there aren’t many behaviours less Christian than that – you are treating Dave as an object in order to achieve your own ends. You are defacing the image of Christ in him.

  10. Wow, Peter, I really think that was a graceless post.

    Dave has done more than most people to stick his head above the parapet on an issue of justice which he’s not even directly connected with, and when he’s threatened by legal action and takes emergency action you issue a knee-jerk condemnation without even asking him why first.

    Who are you to judge what Dave ought to do when under threat? I think you have rather too much faith in the legal system to think that he’s not at risk at all, and even those people who are vindicated by our legal system spend far too long having to prove their case.

    I much more respect those people who would instinctively have pointed out the reasons for Dave being forced to remove material and asked if there was anything they could do to help.

    Of course, if you’re offering to pay for his legal costs and any fines if he’s found against, fair enough.

    Otherwise, surely don’t kick a man when he’s down. I hardly think it’s a reaction worthy of your faith.

  11. Hi

    I’ve followed the SPCK saga, and posted a couple of times (<a href=”http://www.mattwardman.com/blog/2007/12/16/the-need-to-maintain-critical-dialogue-between-religions-spck-ssg-bookshops/” here last December, here in June).

    As a rule we don’t usually do too much about internal church affairs on the Wardman Wire, and – although personally I take a strong interest – my readership is mainly orientated around UK politics so it would be an imposition to have done dozens of posts.

    On Dave’s actions at the conference, I have sympathy with his initial action bearing in mind that there are 75 posts involved, he was given half-a-day’s notice, and he is three or four days into the most important job of his life.

    I’d agree with you that his wording etc. may well have been ambiguous. I’d also agree with you that the correct approach would basically be to throw it straight back at whoever sent the letter – but we may all have done the same thing in the same circumstances. So I find your intrepation a bit harsh given the circumstances, but I’m not going to waste time arguing about it.

    Legally, I *believe* that he cannot be prevented from publishing the Cease and Desist notice, but I have not *yet* got a statement from someone who knows for sure. I am also wondering who the lawyers are.

    For me, this is *another* attempt to use the mere threat of legal action to close down legitimate debate and comment, and another reason why we need libel law reform.

    I’ve also been running Dave’s cartoons on the blog for more than a year with his permission.

    In my initial post I was going on an email from David K, so I didn’t link directly. Will do so soon.

    We need to keep giving this publicity, since that’s what they don’t want.

    Rgds

    Matt

  12. Sam, I trust that you don’t “manipulate” your parishioners who have fallen into sin by suggesting that they should repent and start doing what is right. After all, wouldn’t that be “defacing the image of Christ” in them?

    I don’t say that what Dave has done is sin, but I do say that, based on the information he gave about the situation, it was wrong. It is not for “my own ends” that I encouraged Dave to do what is right. I have no personal interests in this story. It is to promote truth and justice in this whole sorry situation.

    If Dave is lacking in spiritual resources when surrounded by 600+ bishops, what does that have to say about the Anglican Communion? And I did suggest ways in which any economic lack may be supplied. I accept that there may be personal issues involved which I don’t know about, but which Dave has chosen not even to hint at. Unfortunately in this world people who make themselves public figures as Dave has have to take the consequences.

    Richard, I am not offering to pay Dave’s costs but I was implicitly offering to help him find people who could help in this area.

    Matt, thanks for the encouragement. If Dave had said that he was taking temporary action until he had time to deal with this properly, I would have let the matter go. Here is your first link.

  13. Pingback: My Name is Dave Walker: People posting about Mark Brewer’s Cease and Desist Notice | The Wardman Wire

  14. Dave Walker’s Save the SPCK blog has been a meticulous and valuable record, much thanks due to him for all the work he has put in on it.

    On a purely factual note… it is still possible, as of now, to retrieve much of that record and all the links it includes through Google’s cache.

    One possible response to the current situation would be to take that material and make fair, acknowledged copies of it on other blogs to keep the record available for the public good. It would be surprising if Dave Walker sent out cease and desist letters…

  15. Pingback: MetaCatholic » Keeping up with the SSG libel threats

  16. Pingback: More and More: The Exploding SPCK / Dave Walker’s Cartoon Church Blog Story « A Blogspotting Anglican Episcopalian

  17. Peter

    I do ask you to go back and prayerfully consider that a number of people have given you the same counsel here. You cannot say that what Dave has done is wrong until you have seen all the issues that may have related to it – you are making a superficial judgement. You have publicly condemned someone without having the whole picture and without even corresponding with him first.

    This is neither gentler, nor wise. Please, go back and look at things again here.

  18. Sam, I appreciate your post and your approach.

    Rumple, the problem is that the Google cache only last a few days, and I don’t think it includes all comments.

    Ian, I have contacted Dave privately but have received no reply. Yes, I know my assessment of the situation is superficial, but it is explicitly based on the limited information which Dave chose, temporarily, to make available. But, unlike so many of my fellow Anglicans, and like Dave in his SPCK posts, I am not afraid to call what is wrong wrong.

  19. I note that several of Dave’s posts on SPCK bookshops, dated 4th to 10th June this year, are still available at the CartoonChurch backup site – along with a conveniently accessible selection of Dave’s cartoons. I have saved the SPCK-related posts, for possible re-posting in case Dave reads this comment and takes those posts down as well.

  20. I just spotted the following comment on Dave Walker’s blog:

    Canon G says:

    I was able to find “What Am I Doing Here” in the states from one major online bookstore but alas, instead of being named for the Patron of Wales (David) you are now the first martyr (Stephen). One hopes this is not prophetic.

    June 15th, 2008 at 5:56 pm

    Canon G is indeed prophetic. One St Stephen, “the Great”, appears to have chosen another Stephen as one of his martyrs.

    Actually it seems that I was wrong to suggest that St Stephen the Great was a Serb like Radovan Karadzic. This is what Mark Brewer wrote about him, as quoted by Dave and as removed from Dave’s blog at Mark’s demand:

    I’m Mark Brewer, Chairman of the Saint Stephen the Great charitable trust. Who was Saint Stephen the great? He was a man who lived in the fifteenth century who fought some forty seven battles against the Muslim Turks who were invading Eastern Europe at that time. During his lifetime, after every battle he commemorated a church, built a new church to the glory of God throughout eastern Romania. He restored churches that had been destroyed by the Ottoman Turks. He is therefore a very fitting patron saint for this trust. We want to aspire to do the very same thing that Saint Stephen did, we want to rescue restore and re-energise the churches of this great country to the glory of God and to the salvation of the people.

    In (Wikipedia) fact this Stephen was a ruler of Moldavia (now Moldova) and a cousin and ally of Vlad the Impaler, otherwise known as Dracula. I’m sure Dave could make a lot of the link between Stephen and Dracula if he was free to do so.

  21. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » Who was St Stephen the Great?

  22. Ref post 63204, hence the qualifier “as of now”. Google will update when it next spiders those pages, whenever that is, so grab them while you can, everyone. You can still get quite a lot of it. Looking around, I see one partial copy on another blog already.
    Ref various St Stephens, what’s in a name… the stoning of Stephen the first Christian martyr was instrumental in the spreading of the Gospel as people were scattered. Perhaps Dave’s blog will be scattered across the web similarly, and the action taken against it will achieve the opposite of its supposed intention in the long term.

  23. I note this story about a businessman who won a libel action against someone who posted false and private information about him and his company on Facebook. So Dave does need to ensure that anything he has written about the Brewers and SSGCT is accurate and not in breach of privacy.

  24. Pingback: davecole.org » blog » Blog Archive » I’m Dave Walker

  25. If you’re on Dave’s side in this (as I think most of us are), and want to protect some other online information before it gets removed, it might be worth saving the material from the SPCK/SSG blog http://spckssg.wordpress.com/

    Phil Groom, the owner, is currently on holiday (see comment 62136), but if Mark Brewer is being at all consistent Phil will find a letter waiting for him when he gets back. It’s harder to get hold of comments once these posts are deleted and just available in the Google cache, so if you want to help preserve them (after all, they may even be part of the evidence in the current legal action against SSG by several former employees), then you might want to visit the site and make a copy. Several have done this with Dave’s SPCK posts, and Mark Brewer can’t sue all of us…..

  26. Pingback: I’m Dave Walker (And You Should Be Too) « Back Towards The Locus

  27. Howdy, y’all (Ah’ve bin apracticin’ mah Texas drawl, dontcha know).

    What a mess to come back to, eh? For the record: Dave Walker is far from spineless. In fact, he’s spent a good two years ‘fighting the good fight’ whilst the rest of us have, for the most part, stood around shaking our heads in disbelief.

    SHAME ON US ALL – myself included! – for not standing with Dave sooner. For letting it come to this.

    But hey — fantastic to come back to such an explosion of positive support for Dave. Long may it continue. And I think that if Dave hadn’t ‘capitulated’ he’d still be largely out there on his own. So the way things are panning out, Dave taking down his posts has proved to be exactly the right strategy: nice one, Dave! Grace and peace to you!

    Meanwhile, for anyone still following things on the SPCK/SSG Blog, please read this page.

    Thank you.

  28. Phil, thanks for your comments, and for taking over the baton on this one from Dave.

    It is unfortunate how Dave initially reported what he did, and then withdrew that report. If he wanted to pass on the baton to someone like you, of course he has the right to do so. But the way in which he reacted so unnecessarily quickly to the notice suggested that his spine was not as stiff as it should have been.

    To go back to the military analogy, everyone respects a soldier who after a time in the front line takes a break and passes things on in an orderly way to someone else. But no one respects a soldier who turns tail and runs when he sees the enemy coming. Dave appeared to be doing the latter. If he was really doing the former, or if his retreat was a deliberate ruse, then he deserves the credit.

    Meanwhile let’s keep up the good work of telling the truth about the SPCK/SSG saga.

  29. There’s been no formal (or even informal) ‘passing on of the baton’, Peter. I’ve been reporting on this saga ad-hoc since September 2006 (my SPCK/SSG news archive here).

    When I set up the UKCBD Blog this year it rapidly became clear that SPCK/SSG stories could easily take the thing over: they needed their own space. A conversation with Dave and Phelim convinced me that it was right to go ahead with that — but it’s never been intended to replace or supersede Dave’s own unique blogging.

    No, I don’t think Dave’s retreat was a deliberate ruse: I don’t think Dave realised how much support there really was for him — it took something like this to reveal it. The reality is, as Phelim has said above, Dave’s in it up to his eyebrows at the moment. This hit from MB came at exactly the wrong time for him. If I hadn’t been on holiday at the time the C&D emails were sent out I’d have probably reacted similarly — but instead I’ve come back to find such a massive groundswell of support for Dave that I know that anything else MB tries now is just going to blow up in his face — simply because you can’t batten down the truth.

    Dave Walker: respect!

  30. Pingback: I’m Dave Walker « Brainduck’s Weblog

  31. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » The latest on the former SPCK bookshops

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