Presidents Club dinner: Charity Commission boss 'horrified' by groping claims
25 January 2018, 00:53
The head of the Charity Commission has said she is "horrified" over reports of groping and harassment at the men-only Presidents Club dinner - and has asked for an urgent meeting with the charity's trustees.
"I am personally horrified by the reported behaviour," wrote Helen Stephenson.
"The commission has made clear that we consider it has no place being undertaken in the name of charity, whether raising funds for good causes or not."
Ms Stephenson said she was in contact with the Financial Times - which first reported the story - to submit "further evidence... to ensure we are able to look into these matters fully and robustly".
The commission's boss was responding to a letter by 42 MPs, led by Lib Dem deputy leader Jo Swinson, which demanded an investigation into whether crimes were committed and whether the charity's trustees were "fit to hold such office".
The men-only fundraising dinner, held at London's Dorchester Hotel, was attended by 360 guests waited on by hostesses told to wear skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels.
According to the FT, many of the 130 specially hired young women were subjected to lewd comments and then groped, sexually harassed and propositioned at an after-party.
Pressure is also mounting on Government minister Nadhim Zahawi and other senior Tories over the charity dinner.
Mr Zahawi, appointed a junior education minister just 16 days ago, was summoned to a "dressing down" by the Government chief whip.
The MP was initially given the backing of Theresa May and senior colleagues at the Department for Education after claiming he "found the event extremely uncomfortable" and left early.
After some MPs demanded his resignation, Mr Zahawi tweeted: "I do unequivocally condemn this behaviour. The report is truly shocking. I will never attend a men-only function ever."
Some hours later, however, he was called to see chief whip Julian Smith, who demanded an explanation and assurances that his claim to have left early would not unravel or be shown to be inaccurate.
It also emerged that one of the organisers, David Meller, is a major Tory donor and was awarded a CBE in this year's New Year's Honours for services to education.
As well as donations totalling £65,000 to the Conservative Party, he also gave £3,250 to Michael Gove's 2016 leadership campaign.
As the Presidents Club scandal broke, Mr Meller quit as chairman of the Government's apprentice delivery board and from a charity fronted by London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
Jo Swinson's letters - to the Charity Commission and the Presidents Club's trustees - were signed by male and female MPs of all parties, including some of the most senior MPs in the Commons.
They called on the commission to investigate because of the "serious and potentially criminal nature of the behaviour" and asked it look at "whether the trustees are fit to hold such office, given their apparent failure to properly discharge their duties to protect health and safety of workers, and the reputation of the charity".
In the letter to the Presidents Club, Ms Swinson wrote: "There can be no place in 2018 for respectable fundraising events which objectify women and subject them to groping and harassment."
Claiming the trustees had failed in their duty, she added: "Indeed, not only do the reported events of last week impact on the reputation of the Presidents Club Charitable Trust, they also put at risk the reputations of charities that were being supported by the event.
"No doubt these charity partners, sponsors and donors to the Presidents Club Charitable Trust will be reassessing their involvement with your charity following these revelations."
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