The founder of Kids Company, Camila Batmanghelidjh, has called for a judge-led inquiry into the charity's demise as she confirmed some allegations regarding the charity's spending made by a former employee to MPs.
She said the five current investigations were insufficient because they were not "independent of government structures" and called for a judge-led inquiry or Royal Commission because "the whole point is that the machinery of government wasn't working effectively".
The demand came after she confirmed that some evidence provided by a former Kids Company employee to the House of Commons public administration committee (PACAC) was correct – including the claim that some of the charity's clients had been sent to Champneys spa – though she disputed other parts of the evidence.
The written evidence was among a number of documents submitted to the PACAC by former employees and published on the committee's website on Thursday. Much of this testimony – largely submitted anonymously by workers in the charity's centres – was positive about the work the charity did and says its legacy has been tarnished by inaccurate media reporting.
However, the statement submitted by this employee – whose identity has been verified but not revealed by the committee – was far less glowing, as was a separate written submission by the freelance journalist Harriet Sergeant.
The employee alleged in testimony that:
* The charity was run by the CEO [Camila Batmanghelidjh] as "her personal fiefdom, with no regard whatsoever for the financial implications".
* There was a "particular group of young adults - many of them in their late 20s - [who] were known throughout the organisation as 'Camila's kids' and inordinate amounts of money and resources were lavished on them; creating envy and resentment among others".
* A client in his mid-twenties was sent on a first-class flight to New York to see his girlfriend. The employee alleges: "This same client has allegedly been sent to the USA for several months all expenses paid - to keep him 'out of the way' while investigations take place." Batmanghelidjh denied this claim.
* The employee was told that "postal orders were sent out every month to prison inmates; at least one of whom is inside for murder".
* Directors of the charity were paid off to "keep quiet about their concerns".
* There was "rampant nepotism" in the charity, along with "untrained key workers; people with no idea about boundaries, often leading to inappropriate relationships between key workers and clients".
* A 12-year-old was given £200 for trainers.
* And a 30-year old man had his rent and an allowance paid straight into his bank account for several years at a cost of £950 a month.
The employee begins by saying: "I would like to preface my remarks by saying that I believe that over the years, Kids Company has provided vital support to thousands of children, young people and families and employed hundreds of hard-working, dedicated staff."
However, they then add: "I am profoundly sad that the Charity folded; and in such a sudden and ignominious way. I am also extremely angry at the way it was, essentially, run into the ground because of poor, high-handed, short-sighted management."
In a section entitled "Random Observations", the employee says: "Clients were sent on holidays: I was asked if I would accompany an extremely troubled young woman (who I only knew by reputation) to Ibiza, as another key worker had pulled out." Batmanghelidjh told BuzzFeed News and BBC Newsnight that "A fitness camp gave free places to clients for a week" on the island.
The employee also alleges: "A keyworker took a client to a spa (possibly Champneys in Tring) for 2 or 3 days of pampering. The key worker's boyfriend joined them for the night of 14th February so that he could spend Valentine's Eve with his partner."
Batmanghelidjh confirmed three clients had been sent to Champneys, but said: "We have used a spa as an emergency for a patient who had just left psychiatric hospital and for whom there was no alternative accommodation with supervision. We wanted him to be somewhere safe with the availability of a doctor and a nurse for emergencies. His consultant psychiatrist was in agreement with the arrangement whilst new accommodation was being found for him. It was the safest and cheapest option."
She went on: "In 19 years we also took two young people to detox them for exactly the same reasons because there was the availability of a doctor and a nurse in cases of an emergency as there are no rehabs available for young people."
However, in the same section the employee claims: "A client in his mid-20s was sent to New York First Class in order to see his girlfriend. This same client has allegedly been sent to the USA for several months all expenses paid - to keep him 'out of the way' while investigations take place." Batmanghelidjh told BBC Newsnight and BuzzFeed News that the allegation was not true.
The employee goes on to allege: "I was also told of an adult who was referred, after only an email diagnosis, to a hypnotherapist in Harley Street who charged £200 a session. Kids Company allegedly paid for a course of therapy, as well as giving the client money."
The next section of the evidence is titled "Rampant nepotism". It begins:
As reported in the media, Sasha & Jamie Handover (the children of Richard Handover, one of the Trustees) were both employed at KC; Sasha as a "Music Coordinator & Events Organiser" & Jamie apparently involved in "Sports Training" at the Treehouse.
There were many people who I discovered over time were related to each other. The so-called "Operations Manager" - a sweet, but totally inefficient woman of around 60, who kept odd hours - turned out to be the mother of one of the IT chaps.
The employee goes on to allege they had been told a relative of a member of Kids Company's staff has had a sum "in excess of £700,000 spent over the years" on Harley Street therapy to treat "mental health issues".
In one extraordinary section the employee claims that clients were paid cash to do manual labour for the charity, saying: "Typically, these [clients] were fit, healthy young men who were perfectly capable of working 'on the outside' or, at least attending the Job Centre and claiming benefits."
The employee then alleges: "They would be paid £50 a day (often whether they attended or not) plus cash for a travelcard (which they often spent on other things; preferring to take their chances jumping the barrier at the tube station)."
The employee goes on to claim that the young men continued to be employed after the charity warehouse in which they worked shut down, saying: "One of them - recently released from prison for knife crime - was there while waiting to be sent to China, because Camila believed him to be 'spiritual' and would benefit from a year there studying martial arts. KC were renting his accommodation as well as 'employing' him."
The employee adds: "I was also told that postal orders were sent out every month (a practice that has been going on for years) to prison inmates; at least one of whom is inside for murder."
Batmanghelidjh told BuzzFeed News and BBC Newsnight: "We have a policy of encouraging young people who have just arrived at Kids Company and who may have outstanding criminal cases to give themselves up to the police. We support them through the court system and continue to support them whilst in prison, if they don't have family who can do that. The postal orders were sent for the meeting of basic needs and for the young people to be able to keep in contact with us on the phone or by post."
The employee went on: "Others had their rent paid and received substantial 'allowances' (sometimes as much as £250 a week) because they were deemed 'unable to manage to go to the Job Centre or Housing Benefit Office' by virtue of mental health issues."
This appears to contradict Batmanghelidjh's evidence to the PACAC when she was asked about clients receiving £100 or more a week. She replied: "That would be very rare and only if it was a family and they had to support a family."
The employee claims: "When I questioned the wisdom of [these payments], suggesting that surely our job was to help these young people to learn to negotiate and access the benefits system or they risked a lifetime of dependency on KC, I was told that I simply didn't understand."
The employee also alleges: "Several of my Team's former clients have received cash - several hundreds of pounds - since the closure of the charity, which is apparently delivered to them by 'Camila's North London driver, Steven' but, of course, this could be Camila's own money."
Batmanghelidjh flatly denied the claim, telling BuzzFeed News and BBC Newsnight: "The final allowances paid were on the 3rd August 2015. However, some young people have continued to receive support facilitated by donors i.e. a young person's trip to Operation Raleigh was allowed to continue."
The employee also claims: "I have also been told, by several different people, that some of the directors were 'paid off' when they complained about financial mismanagement. The sums involved were £75,000, £35,000 & £90,000 and the story is that they were given a lump sum when they resigned, in return for an assurance that they would keep quiet about their concerns."
When Alan Yentob, the charity's chair, appeared before the PACAC last month, he confirmed that two members of staff had signed nondisclosure agreements, "just as we do in the BBC when people leave". Voluntary sector professionals had raised the issue of these nondisclosure agreements to BuzzFeed News and BBC Newsnight in the past, claiming they were unusual in the charitable sector.
Finally, in a section entitled "Other Observations In Brief", the employee notes: "A 12-year-old being given £200 for trainers" and "A 30-year old man's rent (£800 per month) plus a generous allowance (£150 per week) being paid straight into his bank account for several years."
The employee concludes:
Much of the anger that I feel about the sudden closure of the charity is not just on behalf of all the unpaid staff (several of whom are owed many thousands of pounds; having not been paid since March), but also because so many young people were kept dependent on large sums of money and never guided towards independence and now - overnight - have been thrown back into society without a clue as to how to cope.
Meanwhile, the freelance journalist Harriet Sergeant has submitted written testimony in which she claims that she and another journalist, Miles Goslett, "were warned repeatedly by past and present staff and clients that by exposing Camila Batmanghelidjh, we and our families would be in danger, with a risk of reprisals". She describes Batmanghelidjh as "a dangerous opponent", and writes what she calls her "experience of her tactics":
After my first visit, the staff member who had helped me was threatened by Camila's driver. After my report on the care system in which I described my visit to Kids Company was published in 2006, I was contacted by someone who said they were from the BBC. They said they were doing a program on Camila. I described what I had seen. I heard nothing more. When I rung them back, I found no one of that name worked at the BBC.
However, the rest of the testimony submitted to parliament by around a dozen former employees is largely positive about what it was like to work at the charity and about its impact.
One anonymous former worker writes: "It is my professional opinion that the mainstream media coverage of Kids Company largely misrepresents the reality of the crippling levels of need and risk faced by hard working and skilled Centre based staff who despite their commendable efforts were stretched to breaking point by the scale of the need in the areas within which we operated."
Another, who says they worked at the charity for five and a half years, writes: "For many years, there has been wide recognition of our successes and the transformative work our model enabled us to achieve, however this currently seems to have been lost amidst much of the over-simplified criticism around our closure."
Alan White is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Alan White at email@example.com.
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