Home news Presidents Club: Scandal-hit charity dinner organiser quits post

Presidents Club: Scandal-hit charity dinner organiser quits post


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

David Meller joined the department as a non-executive board member in 2013.

Charities have also said they will be refusing donations from the Presidents Club Charity Dinner, held at London’s upmarket Dorchester Hotel.

An undercover FT reporter made the claims after working at the event.

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

The only women at the event, hosted by comedian David Walliams, were hired hostesses and it was attended by senior figures in business and finance.

Mr 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,” she said.

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

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’

A Great Ormond Street Hospital spokeswoman said the hospital will return previous donations from the organisers of the dinner.

She said: “We have had no involvement in the organisation of this event and were never due to receive money from it.”

She added: “We would never knowingly accept donations raised in this way.

“All monies raised in our name go to support vital work. However, due to the wholly unacceptable nature of the event we are returning previous donations and will no longer accept gifts from the Presidents Club Charitable Trust.”

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.”

Newsnight’s political editor, Nicholas Watt, said new Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi was present, but that he left early.

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

Mr Watt added: “It’s worth pointing out that he has been to the event before – that’s before he was elected an MP in 2010 – but as I understand it, he felt that the event then was completely different to the event that he attended last week.”

A Department for Education spokesperson told the BBC that Mr Zahawi “attended in a personal capacity. It was not official departmental business and as such we are unable to comment further.”

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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Source: BBC