Presidents Club, Charity At Centre Of Lurid Harassment Claims, To Close Down

The Presidents Club, the charitable trust that hosted a men-only charity gala where women hostesses were allegedly sexually harassed, is to close as anger mounted as a result of the revelations.

With the charity’s political links coming under scrutiny and beneficiaries of the its fund-raising handing back donations, a Downing Street source on Wednesday night made clear Theresa May’s disquiet.

“The Prime Minister is appalled by what has been reported,” the source said, using more powerful language than earlier in the day. 

“This shows there is a long way to go to ensure all women are treated properly as equals.”

Meanwhile, education minister Nadhim Zahawi is facing questions over his own account of his presence at the event, despite expressing his regret for turning up to the dinner.

He claims he left early because he felt “uncomfortable”, but is understood to have been hauled in front of Tory chief whip Julian Smith for a dressing down.

The Financial Times report that revealed the shocking behaviour of men in attendance also forced David Meller, chair of Presidents Club, to step down from the Department of Education board.

HuffPost UK later revealed Meller was a donor to Michael Gove’s leadership campaign – and gave more than £65,000 to the Tory party as a whole.

He gave £3,250 to the former Education Secretary’s failed bid to replace David Cameron in 2016, and was lined up to be finance chief for Gove’s ill-fated leadership campaign.

By Thursday morning, more than 50,000 people had signed a petition calling for more protection from sexual harassment in the workplace.

The petition calls for the reinstatement of Section 40 of the Equality Act, which made employers liable for an employee being harassed by a third party – such as a customer – if the employer did not take reasonable steps to prevent it. The section was repealed in 2013.

At the event, two undercover FT reporters posed as hostesses spent six hours at the “most un-PC event of the year” at the Dorchester Hotel last week.

Female staff were instructed to wear skimpy black outfits and matching underwear, the paper reports.

The paper reports that at an after-party, many of the female workers – some of them students – were “groped, sexually harassed and propositioned”, while among the prizes up for grabs at the evening’s fundraising auction were an evening at a Soho strip club and a course of plastic surgery to “add spice to your wife” for the lucky winner.

Following a furore after the story’s publication, a Presidents Club spokesman announced the charity is to disband. 

A statement 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.”

In the meantime, Great Ormond Street Hospital and the Evelina London Children’s Hospital returned donations from the Presidents Club.

Comedian David Walliams, who hosted the event, says he is “appalled” at the reports.

The Presidents Club states on its website that in its 33-year history it has raised more than £20 million for underprivileged children.

According to the FT, Thursday’s event alone raised more than £2 million.

Sexual harassment and misconduct has been in the limelight since the allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein broke last year, triggering a wave of revelations about powerful men spanning many industries.

Women who work in the hospitality sector told HuffPost UK at the time about the inappropriate incidents they had to endure while working in bars and restaurants, with some customers treating them as if they were “on the menu”.

One of the undercover reporters behind the story, Madison Marriage, appeared on BBC’s Newsnight on Tuesday to detail what she witnessed at the event.

“I was groped several times,” she said. “I know numerous other hostesses said the same thing had happened to them.”

The controversial event prompted an urgent question in the House Commons, tabled by Labour’s Jess Phillips, who said women had been “bought as bait by rich men”. 

Conservative Rachel Maclean said businesses who participated in the event needed to be “hit in the pocket to send a clear message that this kind of culture in unacceptable”.

A second woman who waitressed at the event spoke anonymously to ITV News about her experience of the event, and detailed how some men were “treating them like sex workers”.

When the hostesses walked into the room they were paraded on stage. “I was one of the first to go on. Some of the girls loved it and were flicking their hair and liked it but a lot of girls were walking on covering themselves. Didn’t enjoy it. I don’t think they expected to wear a dress that short. It was very tight. It was not flattering.”

She said she spoke to lots of men who were “uncomfortable”, adding: “One guy said ‘I wouldn’t want my daughter to go through this’.”