Presidents Club: Theresa May ‘appalled’ at men-only gala groping claims


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Media captionFormer hostess: “There were girls sat on people’s laps being fondled and groped”

Theresa May has said she was “appalled” by reports women were groped at a men-only gala and was “not happy” that an event like that took place.

The Prime Minister said she would continue to work to ensure women were “accepted and respected as equals”.

Mrs May will also consider whether any changes were needed to non-disclosure agreements, Downing Street said.

The legal documents were signed by the hostesses who worked at last Thursday’s Presidents Club event, it was reported.

Non-disclosure agreements are legal documents signed between two parties to share confidential information.

The Presidents Club said it was closing and would no longer hold events after an undercover reporter for the Financial Times revealed hostesses were subject to groping and lewd comments at the dinner in London.

Mrs May said that it wasn’t just the event that worried her, but “what it says about the wider issue in society – about attitudes to women”.

“I thought that sort of approach to women – that objectification of women – was something we were leaving behind,” she said.

“We’ve made progress, but it’s very clear that there’s a lot more for us to do.”

Meanwhile, the University of Bolton said its vice-chancellor George Holmes, who was a first-time guest at the dinner, “was uncomfortable with the totally unexpected influx of hostess staff and certain auction lots”.

After speaking to hostesses, Prof Holmes raised concerns with a staff team leader that some of her staff were uncomfortable, the university said.

“Although Prof Holmes did not witness any of the assaults subsequently alleged in the press, he chose to leave as soon as was politely possible at the end of the charity auction,” a statement said.

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Media captionTheresa May said more work needed to be done for women “to be accepted and respected as equals”.

Earlier, children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi was reprimanded by No 10 for attending the event.

The BBC understands Mr Zahawi was called to Downing Street on Wednesday to meet chief whip Julian Smith.

He said he went to the fundraiser but left early. Mrs May said she accepted Mr Zahawi’s explanation.

The Metropolitan Police said it had not received any complaints about last Thursday’s dinner.

Why was the dinner controversial?

The dinner and auction – which has taken place annually for more than 30 years and raised £20m for children’s charities – was held at the Dorchester Hotel in central London and attended by senior figures in business and finance.

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Media captionHow The Presidents Club scandal unfolded

The FT revealed the 130 hostesses were told to wear skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels, and made to sign a non-disclosure agreement before starting work.

Auction prizes included lunch with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a trip to a London strip club and plastic surgery “to spice up your wife”.

It is understood that Mr Johnson did not agree to support the event and will not take part in the lunch.

How have charities reacted?

The Presidents Club said it would distribute its remaining funds to children’s charities, although some – including Great Ormond Street children’s hospital – have said they will return any donations they have already received.

The Charity Commission also said it was investigating the claims “as a matter of urgency”.

Have there been calls for attendees to resign?

On Wednesday, Mr Zahawi, MP for Stratford-on-Avon, tweeted that he arrived at the event at 20:00 GMT and left at 21:35 GMT as he “felt uncomfortable”, but said he did not see any of the “horrific” events reported.

He also tweeted that he would never attend a men-only function again.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said Mr Zahawi should “consider his position” after attending a “clearly horrible event”.

“It’s very surprising to me that he didn’t report back on what happened,” she said.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove defended Mr Zahawi on Twitter.

The minister for digital and the creative industries, Margot James, told Newsnight that the event represented “the very worst form of sexism with a smile on its face”.

But she stood by Mr Zahawi and his claim of an early exit.

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Media captionLabour MP Jess Philips: ‘Lads’ culture has no place in country’

But Labour’s Sarah Jones said Mr Zahawi should resign if he did not report his concerns and had attended on previous occasions.

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner also called for an investigation into his attendance.

Earlier on Wednesday, a Downing Street spokesman said the prime minister had confidence in Mr Zahawi and he was not being referred for investigation.

Mrs May has said she accepted Mr Zahawi’s explanation.

Labour peer Lord Mendelsohn – whose spokesman said he attended “part of the dinner” as a president of a charity – said leader Jeremy Corbyn has asked him “to step back from the front bench”.

His spokesman added Lord Mendelsohn did not witness any “appalling incidents described in reports” and “unreservedly condemned such behaviour”.

Mr Corbyn’s spokesman said: “The reports about this appalling event were deeply shocking and there can be no excuse for anyone’s attendance.”

One of the organisers, David Meller, quit his non-executive role on the Department for Education board following the reports.

On Thursday, the Meller Educational Trust said Mr Meller had also taken a leave of absence as one of it’s trustees.

“We, as trustees, wish to express our sympathy to those women who have been so badly treated,” a statement said.

What happened at the event?

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Media captionFinancial Times journalist Madison Marriage: “I was groped several times”

Madison Marriage, the reporter who worked at the event, said she and “numerous other hostesses” were groped at the dinner.

She told BBC Newsnight: “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 there were other women there “who had absolutely no idea that was the kind of event it would be”.

Who has cut ties with the gala?

Before the fundraiser announced it was closing, a number of businesses said they would cut ties with the event – including WPP, the world’s biggest advertising agency, and real estate investment business Frogmore.

Comedian and children’s author David Walliams, who is not the subject of any allegations, was the compere for the evening.

He said he “did not witness any of the kind of behaviour that allegedly occurred”, but added that he was “absolutely appalled” by the reports and he would be donating his fee to the Children’s Trust.

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.”

What did the hotel say?

The Dorchester said it was “deeply concerned” and was looking into the claims.

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.”


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