Theresa May 'appalled' by Presidents Club dinner reports

Theresa May has said she was "appalled" by reports of a men-only charity dinner where hostesses were allegedly groped and sexually harassed.

The Prime Minister added that she will work to ensure women are "genuinely" respected after the Presidents Club annual event at London's Dorchester Hotel was shut down.

Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi has been criticised after it emerged that he had been among the guests at the fundraiser.

Meanwhile, Labour peer Lord Mendelsohn was effectively sacked from his role as a shadow business and international trade spokesman after attending the controversial event.

Mrs May told BBC News: "I understand that Nadhim Zahawi left early from that particular event but, when I read the report of that event that took place, frankly, I was appalled.

"I thought that that sort of approach to women, that objectification of women, was something that we were leaving behind.

"We've made progress but it's very clear that there is a lot more for us to do and what I want to see, and I will continue to work as I have done over my years in politics, continue to work to a point where women are genuinely accepted and respected as equals."

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)

She added: "What worries me is it's not just about that event, it's about what it says about this wider issue in society about attitudes to women.

"We have made progress; sadly, I think it showed that we still have a lot more progress to make."

Environment Secretary Michael Gove offered his support to Mr Zahawi on Twitter, saying: "My friend @nadhimzahawi is a really decent and honourable guy who's in public life to help others - part of a great team at DFE (Department for Education)."

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

But pressure on Mrs May to act over Mr Zahawi could now intensify after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn asked Lord Mendelsohn to step down.

A Labour Lords spokesman said: "Jeremy Corbyn has this evening asked Lord Mendelsohn to step back from the frontbench as he attended the Presidents Club dinner, and he has agreed to do so.

"Lord Mendelsohn has previously made clear that he attended part of the dinner as president of a charity that received support from the event and he had no knowledge of an after-party.

"Lord Mendelsohn did not witness any of the appalling incidents described in reports and has unreservedly condemned such behaviour."

A spokesman for the Labour leader said: "It's right that Lord Mendelsohn has stepped down.

"The reports about this appalling event were deeply shocking and there can be no excuse for anyone's attendance."

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

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.

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 it was not aware of any claims of sexual harassment but that any complaints would be dealt with promptly and fairly.

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