Category Archives: Spiritualism

SNU drops Psychic News liquidation

Just before the start of the Psychic News creditors’ meeting in London, yesterday, the Spiritualists’ National Union (SNU) did a spectacular about-turn — changing its mind about appointing a liquidator for the company that published the 78-year-old weekly Spiritualist newspaper. This last-minute decision, it seems, was inspired by an examination of the accounts, not by any desire on its part to resurrect the publication.

Those of us who want to see Psychic News (PN) survive as an independent newspaper have been baffled by the way in which the SNU has been handling the publication’s financial difficulties (who, in heaven’s name, has been advising them?). Its actions culminated in the planned liquidation process, which can be expensive (liquidators don’t come cheap) and is likely to leave creditors with even less return than if a business is wound down.

Sanity, therefore, seems to have been restored to some degree – prompted, undoubtedly, by the professional advice of Berley accountants, who would have been appointing a liquidator.

It now remains to be seen if that return of sanity extends to the vital question of assets. The SNU maintains that it owns the title of the newspaper and its other assets and that they were not owned by Psychic Press (1995) Ltd.

Now that it has abandoned liquidation, it surely is in a position to sell the company to whoever wants to buy it. It says it is open to offers, but I’ve no idea whether that means for Psychic Press (1995) minus the disputed assets, or whether it will put up for sale a complete package of the newspaper, its title, its photographic and newspaper archives, its library and various paintings of the founders and related material. That’s what was presented to the union in 1995 and that’s what the Spiritualist movement expects the Union to make available to anyone who wants to keep PN running as an independent newspaper.

There are potential buyers waiting in the wings with the money to buy this package and the commitment to keep the newspaper running in some form. Their earlier negotiations broke down because they were not, unsurprisingly, interested in buying it if those vital assets had been plundered by the SNU.

If the SNU says those assets are still not for sale, we must ask why? What reason would it have for keeping them? And what would it achieve, apart from ensuring Psychic News is killed off as an independent voice of Spiritualism, and its own reputation is even more tarnished.

Leslie PriceI am currently in Hong Kong, so I asked my good friend, Leslie Price (right) – a regular contributor to PN as well as a noted historian of Spiritualism – who attended the creditors meeting, to let me know what had happened. Here is his report, which he has also shared with Lis and Jim Warwood who have been campaigning tirelessly for PN on their Spiritualism Link website:

Plans to appoint a liquidator for Psychic Press were abandoned by the SNU shareholders minutes before a creditors’ meeting in London on Wednesday.

The SNU told creditors at an informal meeting that, instead, it was intended to wind down the company gradually. There would be no general resumption of trading, but the Psychic News web site would be re-activated for the limited sale of books. It was hoped to gradually repay a proportion of the money owing to creditors, firstly trade, then subscribers. The SNU had already voluntarily repaid money paid for fund raising events (any one accidentally omitted should contact Psychic Press again).

The Union once more asserted its ownership of the title, archives and other PN assets, but said they were open to offers about PN‘s future.

David BrutonBerley, the accountants who were intended to act as liquidator, are now ending their involvement, and any queries about Psychic Press should be addressed to the executive director, Mark Bradley.
Graham Hewitt
The SNU were represented at the meeting by David Bruton (left), Charles Coulston, Mark Bradley and Graham Hewitt (right).

The prospective liquidator explained to the meeting that once his fees had been paid the sale of any assets (books, etc) was likely to leave little or nothing for creditors.

Graham Hewitt, spokesman for the SNU shareholders, said that the title, archives, etc, of PN had passed to the SNU in 1995, as confirmed by a 1995 STF letter to them. We shall doubtless hear more on this point.

How open the SNU is to an offer for PN may soon be discovered by the JV Trust or any prospective purchaser. Other SNU representatives at the meeting remained largely silent.

The liquidator and his colleague seemed quite relieved not to be further involved in SNU affairs. He expressed his particular irritation with messages from Australia!*

The impression was given that the decision not to proceed with the liquidation arose from a consideration of the accounts, etc, in the last few days, making it impossible to cancel the meeting.

What is certain is that the money spent on preparing for the liquidation could have paid for PN to appear for longer, giving time for orderly changes.

The PN staff remain dispensed with and are likely, I fear, to get only a little from the gradual winding down of the company.

There was a low attendance at the meeting: one subscriber; a supplier of Ursula Roberts books; Susan Farrow and Paul Brett [former editor and assistant editor]. Sue was proxy for Cissy Shaw, director of Psychic Press (1995) and Paul was proxy for the International Spiritualist Federation, who had paid for advertising not received. This low attendance rather confirms what Geoff Griffiths (currently abroad) fears – that Spiritualists will not turn out for a meeting unless there are at least three mediums demonstrating!

*A reference to Lis and Jim Warwood’s online forum.

Thanks Leslie. I will, of course, report on any further developments as soon as I am made aware of them.

This whole episode has been a farce and, sadly, it isn’t over yet. There are still issues that will need to be dealt with which are quite separate from Psychic News‘ future, if it has one.

My advice to the SNU is to sever all connection with Psychic News, now that you are unable to give it the support you have done for the past 15 years, and sell it – complete with its title and all other assets – to whoever believes they can keep it alive.

I believe the Berley representative expressed surprise than some creditors were making such a fuss over being owed subscriptions that amounted to only £6. Clearly, he is not a Spiritualist and has no idea how much Psychic News means to many people. It is part of the Spiritualist movement’s heritage and we should do what we can to keep it going.

Psychic News goes into liquidation

The National Executive Committee of the Spiritualists’ National Union has today released this statement, which is posted on its website:

Psychic Press (1995) Ltd

It is the Union’s sad duty to report that Psychic Press (1995) Ltd has ceased to trade and instructions have been given today, 23rd August, to the liquidator to take the necessary steps to put the company into liquidation.

The date of 15 September next has been fixed for the meeting of the shareholders and the creditors and the liquidation will take effect from this date. Creditors will receive notice of the latter meeting from the liquidator, who is Mark West of Berley, Chartered Accountants, 76 New Cavendish Street, London W1G 9TB, tel. 020 7636 9094.

The Board of Psychic Press and the National Executive Committee are extremely saddened and disappointed that in spite of all the efforts made it did not prove possible in the end to save the company. On behalf of the Board and the Union’s directors we would like to thank all the readers of, contributors to and advertisers in, Psychic News for their loyalty and support to the paper over so many years. We also wish to thank the staff of Psychic Press for their years of dedicated service to the company: their hard work and efforts over their time with us are very much appreciated and did such a great deal to help sustain the viability of Psychic Press in earlier years.

The National Executive Committee of the Spiritualists’ National Union. 23 August 2010

So, hopes that the company that publishes Psychic News’ could be saved from liquidation have been dashed. But that need not be the end of the story. The liquidator can now sell the business and its assets to the highest bidder and I have made clear what I and leading Spiritualists believe those assets to be. They should, as I have stated, include the newspaper’s archives, photo library and paintings of the newspaper’s founders.

Today’s announcement – with its expression of sadness and belated thanks to the Editor and staff – will be seen by many as a rather empty and hollow statement. It makes no reference to the question of assets, which has become a hot topic among dedicated Spiritualists, nor does it indicate what the SNU’s publishing ambitions might be. It will now be up to creditors, at their meeting with the liquidator in September, to ascertain whether the above mentioned assets are included and, if not, why not.

Last Psychic News editor reveals all

Sue FarrowAfter weeks of prevarication during which the fate of Psychic News, the weekly Spiritualist newspaper, has been the subject of debate and conjecture, it now appears that the company that has published it for the past 15 years – Psychic Press (1995) Ltd – is soon to be put into liquidation by its owners, the Spiritualists’ National Union (SNU). It is difficult to imagine the impact this questionable decision has had on its loyal employees and particularly its editor, Susan Farrow, who gave up a musical career to take on the responsibility of editing Spiritualism’s flagship publication for over two-and-a-half years. She has maintained a silence about the events surrounding the demise of the newspaper (apart from an editorial in the final issue, published on 24 July) but now the company is on the verge of liquidation I have her permission to publish her version of events, given to me in the past 24 hours. She has now been made redundant and is free to talk. They will shock most Spiritualists who assume that the SNU has the best interests of the movement and of its employees at heart. If the SNU wishes to take issue with any of Sue’s statements, this column is open for them to do so. Text in bold italics are my questions to Sue.

PN has apparently had financial problems for some time, but last year it increased the number of pages. Whose idea was that and how was the decision justified in view of the financial situation?

Until late 2009 I was not allowed to attend board meetings or see accounts, so I had no personal knowledge of any financial problems afflicting Psychic News (PN). That said, throughout most of its 78-year history PN has had financial difficulties of one kind or another. As you know from personal experience, Roy, the legendary Maurice Barbanell [one of PN’s founders and first editor] was forced to go cap in hand to the likes of Arthur Findlay and Hannen Swaffer on a number of occasions to beg for extra money to keep PN afloat. It’s nothing new. We Spiritualists are a strange lot. Other religions support their flagship newspaper heart and soul and put money behind it, but for some reason we don’t. To me, that’s a tragedy and says a lot about our apologetic mindset.

The idea for the extra pages came jointly from me and PN‘s assistant editor Paul Brett. We felt strongly that the 12-page format of Psychic News was too flimsy. It didn’t allow us to include anything more than basic, rather superficial news coverage, a few readers’ letters and the occasional brief feature. It wasn’t enough. We needed to cover meaty issues of Spiritualist philosophy, history and debate, interviews and so on, and the shorter format could not accommodate those things.

We put this problem to David Bruton, then our executive director, early in 2009, and he accepted that there was a need to expand coverage. Funding, of course, was a problem, and we considered various options. We needed £10,000 to fund the extra pages for a year and could not find it out of regular income. So it was decided that I would approach a well-known Spiritualist charity. In the event I had no need to, because within 48 hours of our meeting David Bruton telephoned me to say that the Arthur Findlay College would donate £5,000 to support our expansion for an initial six-month period. We received almost unanimously positive feedback about the new expanded paper. The next six-month period was funded by a private donor.

When were you told that PN would have to close?

That’s the $64,000 question.

On 4 May we were told that the company was in bad shape. On 13 May we received a memo telling us it was still a going concern and it was “business as usual” concerning subscriptions, advertising and book sales. On 22 May the board voted to liquidate the company. I was present and was instructed not to tell other staff members, with one exception. On 2 June our chequebooks were removed from the office. On 12 June the SNU’s National Executive Committee (NEC) ratified the liquidation of the company. I was then told that we would cease trading on 31 July. However, on the evening of 13 June news of the planned closure leaked out and I received an e-mail telling me that the staff must now be informed of immediate liquidation. I dreaded having to do this. It was not my job, it was the job of management. But… on 14 June I received yet another e-mailed instruction, headed: “Hold the Front Page we have a reprieve. PN is to receive a donation of £10,000.” Within hours that “donation” had been reduced to £5,000. It was a horrendous roller coaster ride of a weekend – one I shall never forget. That kind of up-and-down uncertainty messes with your head after a while.

Following these dramatic and stressful developments we had many an informal staff meeting, trying to work out what was going on. We just couldn’t understand the off/on approach. I expressed multiple concerns to the executive director, in e-mails and phone calls over the following weeks. Above all, staff members were concerned about taking money from the public when the situation appeared so uncertain. My team was left in an untenable position, taking a constant stream of calls from concerned subscribers and advertisers, yet frequently having no clear instructions on what to say to them. We were finally made redundant on Friday 20 August – a heart-breaking day for us all. To the eleventh hour we had hoped for a reprieve because we knew talks were going on with JV Trust. The company had also been in talks with another potential buyer and liquidation had been put on hold during negotiations. We had been told our employment had been extended to 14 August. Then, we were instructed to work to 21 August. It’s impossible to describe the stress and uncertainty this has caused us all, but now the uncertainty is over and the independent Psychic News is dead.

Was there ever any discussion about trying to find financial support from other sources within the movement?

Along with the whole editorial team, I have been excluded from most of the discussions about PN‘s future, so I can’t make any informed comment. Everything has been shrouded in secrecy. I do know that a working party was set up in April to examine the future of PN. To the best of my knowledge its members were David Bruton, Duncan Gascoyne, Mark Bradley and Andrew Hadley. David and Mark are directors of Psychic Press, but the other two directors, Cissie Shaw and Lynda Bradley, were apparently excluded from the working party – strange when you consider that it’s those four directors who have legal responsibility for the company. My understanding – albeit anecdotal – is that the working party had two or three meetings and consulted an employment specialist and at least one liquidation expert. I can only say that, to the best of my knowledge, the SNU made no attempt whatsoever to solicit financial support from any Spiritualist organisation or individual. On the contrary, they seem to have done everything in their power to keep our difficulties quiet. I can’t understand that. PN is, or was, the whole movement’s mouthpiece, not a parish magazine for the SNU.

You were asked to produce a plan that would take the newspaper forward. What solutions did you suggest?

Yes, David Bruton asked me to come up with a plan for the future. This request was made at the Psychic Press board meeting on 22 May this year, which I attended on an ex-officio basis at the invitation of the new executive director, Mark Bradley, who had been appointed in August 2009 following David Bruton’s decision to step down. As I’ve already said, at that meeting the board voted to liquidate the company but David Bruton stated that I and one other staff member would work on a relaunched PN. We all agreed that a modernisation of format would be needed for future viability and David Bruton intimated that the working party’s preference was for a monthly hard-copy magazine and possibly a fortnightly internet issue as well. I did not disagree with that. At that same meeting an offer from the Spiritual Truth Foundation (STF) was put on the table. The STF was willing to fund a marketing initiative for the paper, provided it remained editorially independent. I have no idea whether that offer was ever explored in more detail.

How much of PN’s problem is due to reader apathy and how much to a lack of good business judgment and planning by the SNU?

That’s hard to assess. It seems to me that, though large sections of our movement are passionate about Spiritualism, some elements are increasingly apathetic, not only in terms of whether or not they read PN, or indeed any other publication, but in terms of a general zeal for the promotion of the breathtaking reality of survival and communication beyond death.

Regarding business judgment, I’m no expert, but I have certainly wondered why those in charge of finances did not pick up on our apparent difficulties more promptly. It’s the job of management to keep a close watch on the money side of things. It was also management’s responsibility to ensure that PN was properly marketed. PN has never had a proper marketing budget. You can have the best product in the world, but if no one sees it in the shops it’s hardly going to sell like hot cakes. I raised this issue at a board meeting in March but no action was taken. I also raised the possibility of getting PN back into mainstream newsagents and other outlets. The board received this suggestion positively, but nothing was done about it.

What comments would you like to make about the way in which PN and its closure have been handled?

After five months of unremitting stress and uncertainty, I think it’s probably fair to say that my comments would be unprintable. We’ve had so little open communication from management, and the cloak-and-dagger atmosphere has made us all extremely tense. Speaking personally, the worst thing has been the apparent lack of sensitivity and compassion shown to the staff, some of whom have worked for the company for 15 years. Their problems have been made infinitely worse by the almost total lack of concrete information. In my view, things have been handled with a level of ruthlessness more suited to a multi-national company than a religious body.

What do you think of the way in which the SNU has handled the income from people booking seminar and demonstration tickets?

I think it’s been a disgrace. Cheques amounting to almost £4,000 had been received, and knowing that liquidation had been decided upon, I had done my utmost to retain them. But on 2 June a representative of the SNU Trust (our bankers) visited our office and asked the accounts manager to hand over Psychic News’ chequebook. They also requested the handover of all cheques pertaining to the Physical Mediumship event, which they promptly cashed. Obviously, the Trust had been instructed to do this though I do not know by whom. Having no legal training, I can’t comment on whether or not that act was lawful, but in my view it was deeply unethical. I felt a personal responsibility about our planned Physical Mediumship Seminar, since Stewart Alexander, a good friend, had generously agreed to give the séance solely on the basis of raising funds for an independent PN under my editorship. That was his one and only condition and the board were well aware of it. Indeed, I reminded them of it at the meeting on 22 May. In other words, the directors knew there was no possibility of the séance going ahead unless that condition was met.

What will you miss most about editing PN?

It would take me an entire interview to answer that. I’m devastated at the demise of the paper. Devastated for our pioneers, particularly those who dedicated their lives to establishing Psychic News. Devastated for the hundreds of readers who have written or phoned us expressing absolute shock that their weekly link to worldwide Spiritualism has disappeared. On a personal level, I have loved every moment I’ve spent editing the paper. Spiritualism is my life and I have counted it a huge privilege and a sacred trust to follow, however imperfectly, in the footsteps of Maurice Barbanell. I shall miss the interaction with our readers and, perhaps above all, the pleasure of working with the fantastic editorial team and our excellent feature writers. The staff have worked their socks off to make PN a lively, interesting read, and have been rewarded with redundancy. The SNU is not even paying us redundancy money. We’ve been told to apply to the government. The staff deserved better.

In my view, the SNU has behaved appallingly in regard to Psychic News, its readers, subscribers, advertisers and staff. In saying that, I want to make it known that their most respected figurehead and honorary president, Minister Eric Hatton, has fought with all his might to support and protect the paper, and no words would be adequate to express my thanks, and those of other staff members, for all he has done.

Life, death and asset stripping?

Maurice BarbanellI was expecting to report some good news about the possible reincarnation of Psychic News, the weekly Spiritualist newspaper founded by Maurice Barbanell (left) which was closed down by the Spiritualists’ National Union (SNU) a few weeks ago. Eric Hatton, a former president of the SNU, together with fellow trustees of the Spiritualist charity JV Trust, had hoped to rescue the newspaper. They have been in talks with SNU representatives but sadly have failed to reach agreement. The JV Trust trustees sent their decision to the SNU on Friday.

So why is it that the SNU has been unable to do a deal with a charity that has been enormously supportive of the Arthur Findlay College and has given financial backing to many other good causes within the Spiritualist movement, including 60 SNU churches?

The answer is surprising. The major stumbling block, as far as I am aware, is that the SNU wanted to sell Psychic News but retain the masthead (title) and its considerable archives. I have already indicated this in comments elsewhere on this blog.

What is new to me is the declaration made by the SNU representatives during those discussions that “the newspaper’s title and its archives are assets of the SNU and always will be”.

How can this be? Surely they are assets of Psychic Press (1995) Ltd, the company which published the newspaper on behalf of the SNU and which the union said it was about to put into liquidation. If Psychic News goes into liquidation, the masthead and the archives will become the property of the liquidator who can then sell the publication and its assets to the highest bidder.

Inclusion of title and archives in the purchase was certainly the expectation of the JV Trust trusteees when they sat down with the SNU’s representatives to hammer out a deal.

If the SNU was not putting the newspaper’s title and its assets on the table, along with everything else, then what was it selling? The answer, as far as JV Trust is concerned, is nothing that is worth buying – and who can blame them?

Apparently, the SNU has been in talks with another potential buyer, but if the masthead and the archives are not part of the package, then I can’t see that it’s going to be of interest to anyone else.

How has the SNU removed these vital components of a publication from the equation? Surely, that’s asset stripping? Talking of which, there are still many people – including me – who are wondering what has happened to the money we paid for events that were going to provide income for PN but which have now been cancelled. Unless I get a refund, I’ll feel as if I’ve been asset-stripped, too.

SilverBirchWhen the Spiritual Truth Foundation presented the newspaper, its title and its archives, together with portrait paintings of Maurice Barbanell and Hannen Swaffer, two of its founders, and a psychic portrait of Silver Birch (right), Barbanell’s spirit guide, to the SNU along with other items, it was a complete package to enable Psychic News to continue to exist as an independent newspaper and retain its heritage. If the SNU is now looking to grab the archives and the title and claim them as its own, it will raise many new questions about the union’s motives and morality, as well as the legality of what it is doing.

How can it strip those assets from Psychic Press (1995) and claim to own them? The SNU is already taking a battering from ardent supporters of the weekly newspaper, and this latest revelation is going to alienate even more Spiritualists.

Clearly, we haven’t heard the last of this whole sorry saga, and I look forward to hearing how the SNU intends to justify its position over these essential assets. A newspaper’s archives – its cuttings, photo library and reference books – are its lifeblood and without them there can be no life after death!

I have been trying to understand the extraordinary behaviour of the SNU in the way it has closed down the world’s only weekly Spiritualist newspaper. It is quite baffling. One possible interpretation is that it has decided to produce Psychic News as its own publication and has laid claim to the newspaper’s archives and other assets in order to do so, leaving very little to sell off when the company is liquidated. If that is its plan, I believe that to be illegal and I suggest it changes its mind very quickly before it finds itself in deep trouble.

If Psychic Press (1995) Ltd goes into liquidation, the above mentioned items must be among the assets which the liquidator puts up for sale to the highest bidder. It is essential that what is sold by the liquidator raises as much as possible for the newspaper’s creditors.

Needless to say, I and many others will be examining the events surrounding Psychic News’ demise and the actions of those involved very closely and challenging any attempt by the SNU to hijack assets that do not belong to it.

Remembering Lord Dowding, leader of ‘the Few’

Lord Dowding

It is 70 years ago, today, that Sir Winston Churchill made his most famous and stirring speech. Speaking in Parliament, he praised the Battle of Britain aircrews who defeated the Nazi attempt to invade the United Kingdom. It was the speech in which he declared: “Never was so much owed by so many to so few” and it led to those brave airmen being known as “the Few”.

The man who led the Few, as head of the British Royal Air Force Fighter Command, was Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding. A former pilot, he proved himself to be a brilliant air combat strategist.

He was also a Spiritualist and many believe that his open belief in mediumship and spirit communication – declared in books he wrote while war was still raging – was the reason why he never received the recognition that was his due at the end of the war.

He did, however, receive the Knight Grand Cross and a baronetcy in 1943, two years after he was forced to retire as head of Fighter Command.

Historians now acknowledge that he was one of the more important military commanders of the war, playing a major role in defeating Hitler.

It was one of Lord Dowding’s books that first interested me in Spiritualism as a schoolboy. I had seen it reviewed or serialised in a London evening newspaper and so I borrowed it from my local public library. It was a revelation.

It may have been Many Mansions, but it could just as easily have been Lychgate, God’s Magic or The Dark Star, the only one that is now in my library. Published in 1951, it includes chapters on “Rebirth”, “Discarnate Ethics” and “Astral Life”.

I was privileged to meet Lord Dowding on one occasion and his wife Muriel, Lady Dowding, several times. By then in his late 70s and crippled with arthritis, he still retained the reserve that led his men to nickname him “Stuffy”. But no one who knew him doubts that he put his men – and his country – above all else.

TV news programmes have said much about today’s special anniversary, and particularly about Churchill’s speech, but I have heard no mention of Dowding’s enormous contribution to our victory.

In my own small way, I am pleased to use this occasion to honour a man who was astute enough to mastermind the Battle of Britain and brave enough to declare his belief in afterlife communications.

Interestingly, I read that Churchill’s speech was probably inspired by a book written by another famous Spiritualist, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In his historical novel The Refugees – a book Churchill admired – is a passage that reads: “Never, perhaps, in the world’s history has so small a body of men dominated so large a district and for so long a time.” It refers to the Iroquois Indian tribe from which Churchill claimed to have been descended.