The Club That Hosted The All-Male Dinner Where Female Staff Were Allegedly Harassed Has Shut Down
The closure of the Presidents' Club comes hours after the Financial Times exposed allegations of groping and sexual harassment at a secretive black-tie fundraising dinner.
The Presidents Club Charitable Trust, which came under fire for hosting a charity dinner where female staff were allegedly sexually harassed, has closed.
The trustees released a statement just after 5pm on Wednesday which said: "The trustees have decided that the Presidents' Club will not host any further fundraising events. Remaining funds will be distributed in an efficient manner to children's charities and it will then be closed."
The dinner was the subject of an extensive report from the Financial Times, in which two undercover reporters got jobs working among the 100-plus hostesses hired to entertain male guests on the night.
Earlier on Wednesday, as pressure continued to mount on the charity, its donors and beneficiaries, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, which represents charities in England, advised its members not to accept donations from the Presidents' Club.
Elizabeth Chamberlain, head of policy at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, told BuzzFeed News: "Any reputable charity would be horrified to be associated with an event like this. Sexual abuse at an event that claims fundraising for children's charities as its aim is particularly deplorable."
The undercover reporters for the Financial Times revealed they were paid £150 and told to wear black underwear and “sexy” black shoes to match the outfits provided.
One guest at the charity auction allegedly told a hostess: “I want you to down that glass, rip off your knickers, and dance on that table.” Lots on offer allegedly included plastic surgery “to spice up your wife” and lunch with foreign secretary Boris Johnson.
As the story developed on Wednesday:
— Both Great Ormond Street and Evelina children's hospital in London said they would return previous donations from the Presidents Club and accept no more in future.
-- The Children's Trust said it would no longer accept donations from the charity.
-- A source close to Boris Johnson said the foreign secretary was not aware lunch with him was being auctioned at the event.
— The Charities Commission, which regulates charities in England and Wales, said it would urgently look into the matter and pointed out that all trustees have a responsibility to make sure staff were properly protected.
— David Meller, one of two joint chairs of the Presidents Club board of trustees, has stood down from his non-executive directorship role at the Department for Education, which Anne Milton, the women's minister, told the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon in response to an urgent question tabled by Labour MP Jess Phillips.
-- The Bank of England has withdrawn a tour of its historic headquarters in central London, which was auctioned during the fundraising dinner. A spokesperson said the organisation had not approved the prize, which had reportedly been re-auctioned from another charity event.
— Sir Martin Sorrell, founder and CEO of the global advertising giant WPP, said the company would withdraw its longstanding support for the event. The company sponsored a table at this year's event, according to the FT, as it has in previous years.
-- Real estate investment firm Frogmore, which sponsored at table at the dinner, has also withdrawn its support for the charity, adding in a statement that it does not condone the events the FT described and that its staff didn't witness them taking place.
— David Walliams, who hosted the event, said on Twitter he was appalled by the reported behaviour and added that he did not witness it on the night.
The FT report provoked a fierce reaction from across the political spectrum:
Tracy Howarth, the Charity Commission's head of regulatory compliance, said in an emailed statement: "The public hold charities to the highest standards, both in what they do and how they go about it. They will rightly be dismayed by the reports they have read today and will consider that the alleged behaviour has no place being taken in the name of charity, whether raising funds for good causes or not.
"Charities have a duty to fundraise responsibly and in line with their values. Trustees must also consider the well-being and protection of staff and all those who come into contact with their charity – not just those they are there to help.
"We are aware of concerns reported by the Financial Times about the Presidents Club Charity Dinner. We are assessing these allegations as a matter of urgency and will be contacting the Presidents Club Charitable Trust."
Dalton Leong, CEO of the Children's Trust, told BuzzFeed News: "We were shocked by the allegations regarding The Presidents Club Charity Dinner. We have not attended or been involved with any of The Presidents Club events, nor do we condone the style of event or the alleged behaviour.
"The Presidents Club Charitable Trust has donated to The Children’s Trust in the past, and funded vital equipment such as an adapted minibus and specialist walking frame to aid rehabilitation of children with acquired brain injury. We are not accepting any further donations from The Presidents Club Charitable Trust."
The Presidents Club has pledged to carry out a full investigation into the allegations. In a statement, a spokesperson said: “The Presidents Club recently hosted its annual dinner, raising several million pounds for disadvantaged children.
"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."