Culture Secretary welcomes ending of men-only Presidents Club dinners

A Government minister has welcomed the closure of a charitable trust which organised a men-only dinner where hostesses were allegedly groped and sexually harassed.

Culture Secretary Matt Hancock said the winding-up of the Presidents Club, which ran the event for wealthy donors at London's Dorchester Hotel, should be a trigger for wider change.

"I am glad that it has closed. I think it is goodbye to bad rubbish. It has got to be the symbol of a bigger change. I comfortably describe myself as a feminist," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"I think we need equality of opportunity for people whatever their backgrounds, whatever their gender."

Waitresses at a prestigious charity dinner at London's Dorchester Hotel were allegedly subjected to sexual harassment from guests (Hannah McKay/PA)
The Dorchester Hotel said an investigation has been launched (Hannah McKay/PA)

On Wednesday, Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi was given a "dressing down" by Government chief whip Julian Smith after it emerged that he had been among the guests at the dinner.

Mr Zahawi said he had left early, having been made to feel "extremely uncomfortable" and vowed never to attend such an event again.

Despite anger at his presence, Mr Hancock said he believed he had offered a "reasonable" explanation for his involvement.

"I understand he has had a conversation with the chief whip. I think that his explanation, that he went because it was a charity event and then he left early, is a reasonable explanation," he said.

Following the disclosures about the event in the Financial Times, charities and businesses sought to dissociate themselves from the Presidents Club.

A number of charities, including Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity, that have benefited from the £20 million raised by the Presidents Club over more than 30 years said they will now refund previous donations.

Presidents Club fundraiser
Event organiser David Meller stepped down from the Department for Education board (Department for Education/PA)

Businessman David Meller quit his roles at the Department for Education and the Mayor's Fund for London over his involvement in organising the event.

After it emerged that the auction included lunch with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and tea with Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, the Bank and the Foreign Office made clear that neither man had known about it and would not be honouring the engagements.

According to the FT, the hostesses at the event were told to wear skimpy black dresses, black underwear and "sexy" black shoes.

Reporter Madison Marriage, who went undercover as part of the paper's investigation, said she was groped several times and that other hostesses had suffered similar treatment.

The Charity Commission said it was looking into the allegations "as a matter of urgency".

The Dorchester Hotel said it was not aware of any claims following the event and an investigation had been launched.

A spokesman for the Artista agency, which recruited the hostesses, said they were not aware of any claims of sexual harassment but that any complaints would e dealt with promptly and fairly.

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