Presidents Club to scrap further events and close after 'slimeball' scandal

Greg Heffer, News Reporter

The Presidents Club will close and not host any further fundraising events following allegations of harassment at a London dinner.

The charity has been rocked by claims its recent all-male fundraising dinner, held at the Dorchester Hotel last Thursday, saw female workers groped, sexually harassed and propositioned.

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."

The Presidents Club's accounts reveal it hands millions of pounds a year to charitable causes.

But allegations about the secretive Dorchester dinner, published after an undercover investigation by the Financial Times, have prompted an outpouring of criticism for the event's organisers and more than 300 male guests.

Businessman David Meller, who is on the board of the Presidents Club charitable trust, has left his non-executive role with the Department of Education amid the scandal.

Opposition MPs have also raised questions about the attendance of Tory minister Nadhim Zahawi at the London dinner, which has been an annual event for more than 30 years.

The politician, said to have left the dinner early, branded reports of behaviour at the event "shocking" and vowed never to attend a men-only function again.

Leading businessmen and prominent celebrities are also reported to be among past and recent attendees of the annual event.

One of Mr Zahawi's government colleagues, digital minister Margot James, branded the "ghastly" dinner an event for "slimeballs".

In the House of Commons, furious MPs suggested allegations of groping and indecent exposure should be passed to the Met Police as they claimed the dinner had seen women "bought as bait for rich men".

London's Great Ormond Street Hospital said it will return all previous donations from the Presidents Club following the claims.

Madison Marriage, the undercover reporter who posed as one of the 130 women hired as hostesses at the dinner, described a "huge amount of testosterone in the room".

She told BBC Newsnight: "I was groped several times and I know there were 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 around your waist unexpectedly.

"One of the strangest things was you could be talking to a man and he would suddenly start holding your hand."

The journalist claimed one woman was "asked if she was a prostitute".

Earlier on Wednesday, advertising giant WPP ended its association with the Presidents Club having traditionally sponsored a table at the dinner.

Another table sponsor, leading real estate fund manager Frogmore, also cut its ties with the charity.

Comedian David Walliams, who hosted last Thursday's fundraiser, said he was there in a "strictly professional capacity and not as a guest".

"I left immediately after I had finished my presenting on stage at 11.30pm," he added.

"I did not witness any of the kind of behaviour that allegedly occurred and am absolutely appalled by the reports."

A spokesman said Mr Walliams' fee for the evening had been donated to a children's charity.

Lots at the dinner's charitable auction reportedly included lunch with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, tea with Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, a night Soho's Windmill strip club, and a course of plastic surgery to "add spice to your wife".

Mr Johnson was said to have known "nothing" of his inclusion in any auction and had in no way endorsed the event, while the Bank of England said the offer of tea with Mr Carney had been re-auctioned as a prize from another unrelated charitable event without their knowledge.

They withdrew the offer.

TV presenter Jonny Gould, who hosted the auction, said: "I have auctioneered at this event for the last five years, raising millions for the charities the event supports.

"I have never witnessed any of the alleged behaviour of guests at this event nor in previous years. If I had I would not have continued to work at the event."

Downing Street said the Prime Minister was "uncomfortable" about the reports of the event, as well as the male-only aspect of it.

But Theresa May retains full confidence in Mr Zahawi, who regrets his decision to attend the dinner, the Prime Minister's spokesman added.