Women ‘groped’ by millionaires
The charity behind a men's only-event where hostesses were "groped" and sexually harassed by various rich and famous guests has shut down after an undercover investigation.
Financial Times journalist Madison Marriage went undercover as a waitress to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct at the event at The Dorchester hotel in London, UK, on Thursday last week. She has since claimed that she and her undercover colleagues were groped and propositioned by attendees - who included senior business and political figures - throughout the evening. One hostess reportedly told the FT that an attendee exposed his penis to her.
After coming under fire for the event, the charity announced on Wednesday it would shut down and hold no further fundraising events. The investigation also prompted sponsors and beneficiaries of the dinner to sever ties with the organisation.
Two London children's hospitals said they would return donations received from the Presidents Club and declared they would "no longer accept gifts" from the organisation.
The annual gala, organised by The Presidents Club, has been running for 33 years and raising millions of dollars for charities. The event was this year hosted by comedian David Walliams and attended by 360 guests including bankers, entrepreneurs and celebrities. There is no suggestion Mr Walliams was involved in any wrongdoing.
The comedian and writer distanced himself from the event in a tweet, saying he had attended in a "strictly professional capacity", and claimed he was shocked at the reports and did not witness any inappropriate behaviour.
The night included a charity auction for a lunch with foreign secretary Boris Johnson hosted by former England cricketer Ian Botham or tea with Bank of England governor Mark Carney.
About 130 female staff were hired as hostesses for the event but only those who were "tall, thin and pretty" were selected, the journalist reported.
"All of the women were told to wear skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels," she said.
Ms Marriage alleged that during the six hours she worked at the event, "many of the hostesses were subjected to groping, lewd comments and repeated requests to join diners in bedrooms elsewhere in the Dorchester".
She said female workers were encouraged by attendees to drink alcohol and that she overheard a conversation in which a man told a waitress: "You look far too sober", before grabbing her and filling up her glass.
One woman was told to "down that glass, rip off your knickers and dance on that table" at the after-party.
Other hostesses were seen holding hands with the men, and one claimed she was fondled inappropriately.
According to Ms Marriage, one said: "I've never done this before, and I'm never doing it again ... It's f***ing scary."
A statement from the Dorchester Hotel read: "We are unaware of any allegations and should we be contacted we will work with the relevant authorities as necessary."
The Presidents Club also responded to the allegations.
"The Presidents Club recently hosted its annual dinner, raising several million pounds for disadvantaged children," a Club statement read.
"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."
The chair of the parliamentary committee on women and equalities, Maria Miller MP, has suggested strengthening the Equalities Act, in response to the allegations.
Liberal Democrats deputy leader Jo Swinson described the Financial Times report as "simply stomach-churning".
"More than 300 rich businessmen were perfectly happy to attend such an event, which shows the rotten, sexist culture still alive and kicking in parts of the business community," she said.
"Time's up on this crap."
Women's Equality party leader Sophie Walker said: "Men from across political, business, and entertainment worlds are implicated in this grotesque circus of sleazy rich men pawing at young women and buying crude 'lots' in the name of charity".
"Those who are worried that women's confrontation of sexual harassment has gone too far and turned into a 'witch hunt', look no further," she said.
Conservative MP Anna Soubry said: "I should imagine the charities will be appalled that their good name has been sullied in this way.
"It was never acceptable but it's 2018 for goodness sake and I thought - hoped - we'd moved on to being a more civilised decent society. Well, we need to."