The Charity Commission has launched a scathing attack on the trustees of the controversial Presidents Club – which was branded a”lady zoo” for “slimeballs” by MPs – ruling that they were in breach of “key charity law duties” when they hosted a black tie event at The Dorchester Hotel.
The investigation was sparked by undercover reporting from the Financial Times (pictured), which found that hostesses for the evening, hired through an agency, were told to wear black underwear and “sexy” black shoes for their shift at the all-male dinner.
Leading businessmen and prominent celebrities were reported to be among past and recent attendees of the annual event, which was hosted this year by David Walliams. He claimed to have left “immediately after I had finished my presenting on stage at 11.30pm”.
This year’s guest list included marketing agency giant WPP. At the time, digital minister Margot James branded the fundraiser a “slimeball’s” event, while Labour’s Jess Phillips called the event a “lady zoo”, adding that “women were bought as bait for rich men”.
In the wake of the outrage, the Presidents Club axed all future events and said it would distribute money raised among various charities.
The Charity Commission report into the event said: “The trustees failed fully to recognise or address risks to the reputation of the charity – and its purpose of raising money for good causes – arising from holding an all-male event staffed by female-only event staff, who were subject to instructions on their appearance, including that they wear ‘smart, sexy shoes’.”
The report added that the failure of the trustees to put “clear or adequate procedures” in place to deal with harassment allegations was in “stark contrast” to the privacy it granted those on the guest list.
However, the report concedes there is no evidence to suggest the trustees acted in “bad faith” or with anything other but the best interests of the charity at heart.
Helen Stephenson, chief executive of the Charity Commission, said: “The allegations made about the event were entirely at odds with what we would expect from any charity when raising funds for such important causes.
“Our report should serve as a warning to others that raising funds for charity does not absolve trustees of their legal duties or moral responsibilities.”
A spokesman for the trustees hit back, insisting they were “surprised at both the report’s muted acknowledgement of the fact that not a single complainant has come forward since the FT’s article was published, and at the weight of credibility it gives to the FT’s reporting of the 2018 dinner”.
The spokesman added: “The core issues investigated by the Charity Commission in coming to its conclusions concern perceptions rather than any proven facts. We, as trustees, have never and would never condone the sort of alleged behaviour described in the FT article.”
The trustees, named on the Charity Commission website as David Meller, Harvey Soning and Bruce Ritchie, said they would comply with the action plan in the report.
Hosts were reportedly told to wear skimpy black dresses and matching underwear, with one told by a guest she was “far too sober”. He then declared: “I want you to down that glass, rip off your knickers and dance on that table.”
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