Presidents Club: Scandal-hit charity dinner organiser quits post

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Media captionFinancial Times journalist Madison Marriage: “I was groped several times”

A man who helped organise a men-only charity dinner, where hostesses were allegedly groped, has quit the Department for Education board.

David Meller quit his non-executive role after claims about the event by an undercover FT reporter.

Charities are refusing donations from the Presidents Club Charity Dinner, at London’s Dorchester Hotel.

Event compere comedian David Walliams said he was “appalled” by the claims but had not witnessed anything.

The Presidents Club said it would investigate, while the Dorchester Hotel said it was “deeply concerned” and was also looking into the claims.

The only women at the event, attended by senior figures in business and finance, were hired hostesses.

A spokesman for the Artista agency, which recruited the hostesses, said: “I was not aware of any claims of sexual harassment but the kind of behaviour alleged is completely unacceptable.

“I am checking with the staff and any complaints will be dealt with promptly and fairly.”

Walliams tweeted that he was there in a “strictly professional capacity” and not as a guest.

Responding to an urgent question in the House of Commons, education minister Anne Milton said Mr Meller was “absolutely clear” that stepping down was the “right thing to do”.

She said allegations of this type of behaviour were “completely unacceptable” and said that board members were required to follow a code of conduct.

“It is quite extraordinary to me that, in the 21st century, allegations of this kind are still emerging,” she said.

“Women have the right to feel safe wherever they work.”

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Media captionLabour MP Jess Philips: ‘Lads’ culture has no place in country’

The Department for Education said Mr Meller, founder of the Meller Educational Trust, attended the dinner in a personal capacity.

It said new Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi also attended in a personal capacity.

A Downing Street spokesman said Mr Zahawi had “attended briefly and felt uncomfortable at what had begun to happen.”

Mr Zahawi told the BBC’s Newsnight: “I didn’t stay long enough to really comment on the occasion.”

He later tweeted: “I do unequivocally condemn this behaviour. The report is truly shocking. I will never attend a men only function ever.”

Downing Street said the prime minister was “uncomfortable” at the reports about the dinner and a spokesman added that it was “an event she wouldn’t be invited to”.

Hostesses ‘shocked’

Madison Marriage, the Financial Times reporter who worked at the event, says hostesses were not warned that they might be sexually harassed.

Ms Marriage told BBC Newsnight: she was groped “several times” and “numerous other hostesses” said the same thing happened to them.

“It’s a hands up skirts, hands on bums but also hands on hips, hands on stomachs, arms going round your waist unexpectedly,” she said.

“This isn’t, I suppose, a high-level groping, but one of the strangest things was you could be talking to a man and he’d suddenly start holding your hand.”

Ms Marriage said that the 130 hostesses were told to wear skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels and also that they could drink alcohol while working.

She said the hostesses were asked to sign a five-page non-disclosure agreement about the event upon arrival to the hotel.

She said there were other women there “who had absolutely no idea that was the kind of event it would be”.

“I had one woman tell me that she was shocked,” she said. “She was asked if she was a prostitute on the night.”

‘Organisers are appalled’

Over more than 30 years, the annual dinner has raised £20m for children’s charities including Great Ormond Street Hospital and Evelina London Children’s Hospital.

The hospitals have said they will return previous donations from the organisers of the dinner following the reports.

Great Ormond Street Hospital said it was “shocked” at the claims, had no involvement in the event and was not due to receive money from the dinner.

“We would never knowingly accept donations raised in this way,” a spokeswoman said.

A spokeswoman for the Evelina London Children’s Hospital said they were “alarmed” by the allegations.

“This is not the kind of event we would wish to be associated with,” she said.

The Charity Commission said it was investigating the claims “as a matter of urgency”.

In a statement, the Presidents Club said: “The organisers are appalled by the allegations of bad behaviour at the event asserted by the Financial Times reporters. Such behaviour is totally unacceptable.

“The allegations will be investigated fully and promptly and appropriate action taken.”


WPP, the world’s biggest advertising agency, has said it is withdrawing its future support for the dinner after the allegations.

WPP sponsored a table at the dinner, which took place at London’s Dorchester Hotel last Thursday.

Boss Sir Martin Sorrell told the BBC his guests did not see such behaviour and was not at this year’s event at London’s Dorchester Hotel, but said: “I have never seen anything like that.

“We checked with our people who were there at our table and they said they saw nothing of that kind – but we issued a statement saying that we won’t support the charity in future, which is regrettable because it is a charity that supports numerous children’s charities and has done a lot of good work.”

‘Completely different’

Maria Miller, chair of the Women and Equalities select committee, told the BBC: “I think that at a time when Hollywood and Westminster are getting their act in order, tackling sexual harassment – to see so many members of the top establishment British business involved in an event like this,

“I think really does give cause for concern and really has to bring into question as to whether or not the laws are strong enough in this area.”

Jess Phillips MP, who chairs the Women’s Parliamentary Labour Party, told the BBC: “I am tired of having to continually say it’s 2018 and it’s totally unacceptable that women should be hired in as a herd to entertain a group of entitled rich men, because it’s not what we’re teaching our kids is an acceptable thing.”

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “This is brave reporting from the FT, exposing behaviour that is outrageous and unacceptable.”

And Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI director-general, said: “If even half of what’s been written about this event is true, it is deplorable and confirms how far we have still to go to stamp out sexual harassment.

“We want all women to feel confident and respected in every walk of life. We can and must do better than this.”

Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for gender equality and women’s rights, said: “Sexual harassment, but all in a good cause? This is completely outrageous and proves why we need sexual harassment by clients or customers to be covered by law.

“At the moment, these women are unable to hold their employer to account for putting them in that situation.”

Part of the event included a charity auction, with one of the prizes was the chance to have tea with Bank of England governor Mark Carney.

However, a Bank of England spokesman said: “The Bank of England did not approve any prize for auction on the occasion described nor would it have for that organisation under its guidelines for charitable giving.”

The spokesman added that the Bank will not be permitting anyone who secured the “prize” to take it up.

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