Scottish charity to return Presidents Club donations

Organisers of a Scottish charity appeal have announced they will return all previous donations received from the Presidents Club after reports that the trust held a men-only dinner during which hostesses were groped.

The Presidents Club dinner was hosted by David Walliams. Picture: TSPL
The Presidents Club dinner was hosted by David Walliams. Picture: TSPL

Senior figures at the STV Children’s Appeal said on Wednesday night that they had taken the decision following claims about the event which have sparked widespread anger and led to the resignation of Department for Education director David Meller.

The only women at the event, held last Thursday at the Dorchester Hotel in central London, were hired hostesses.

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A spokeswoman for the STV Children’s Appeal said: “The trustees of the STV Children’s Appeal have taken the decision to return all previous donations received from the Presidents Club following news reports on the organisation’s latest fundraising event.”

The move came as The Presidents Club said it would not host any further fundraisers.

Remaining funds will be distributed to children’s charities before the trust closes.

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In a statement the organisation 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.”

A number of charities that have benefited from the £20 million raised by the Presidents Club over more than 30 years said they will refund previous donations in the wake of the allegations. They include Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity,

A spokesman for the Mayor’s Fund for London, which supports disadvantaged young people, said the organisation had not been a beneficiary of or had any involvement with the Presidents Club.

Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi also attended but “found the event extremely uncomfortable” and left early, Ms Milton said.

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

Items at the auction included lunch with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a trip to the Windmill strip club in Soho and plastic surgery “to spice up your wife”.

It is understood that Mr Johnson did not agree to support the event and will not be taking part in the lunch that was auctioned to guests.

The Bank of England has distanced itself from the dinner, claiming it “did not approve any prize for auction at the event”.

Real estate fund manager Frogmore, which hosted a table at the event, has ended its association with the Presidents Club.

Leading figures in business, politics and finance attended the event hosted by comedian and children’s author David Walliams, who is not the subject of any allegations.

Mr Walliams said in a statement that he attended “in a strictly professional capacity” and “did not witness any of the kind of behaviour that allegedly occurred”, adding that he was “absolutely appalled”.

His fee from this year’s event has been donated to the Children’s Trust, while a prize lot offered by the television judge will be withdrawn, a spokeswoman for the star added.

Financial Times reporter Madison Marriage, who went undercover as part of the paper’s investigation into the event, told BBC Newsnight: “I was groped several times and I know that there are numerous other hostesses who said the same thing had happened to them.

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

She added: “I can’t believe that it still goes on in 2018, I think it’s quite shocking.”

Hostesses were allegedly told to wear black underwear and “sexy” black shoes for their shift.

One woman, aged in her 20s, who waitressed at the event told ITV News she became concerned that some of the men there “were treating them like sex workers”.

She added: “We were play things. We were objects for them to gawp at, touch.”

The Charity Commission said it was looking into the allegations “as a matter of urgency”.

A statement from former Channel 5 baseball show presenter Jonny Gould, who was the auctioneer at the dinner, said he had “never witnessed any of the alleged behaviour of guests at this event nor in previous years”.

He added: “If I had I would not have continued to work at the event.”

The Presidents Club earlier said it was “appalled” by the allegations and vowed to investigate claims of “bad behaviour”.

The Dorchester Hotel said it was not aware of any claims following the event and an investigation had been launched.

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.”