Camila Batmanghelidjh, the founder and former chief executive of the collapsed children's charity Kids Company, used her forceful personality and "friends in high places" to intimidate people, the former deputy children's commissioner has told MPs.
Sue Berelowitz, who took redundancy from her role as deputy children's commissioner for England in April, was giving evidence to House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee this morning as part of its inquiry into Kids Company's relationship with successive UK governments.
Berelowitz told MPs she was intimidated that Batmanghelidjh had so many friends who were celebrities and government figures, and this "gave her pause for thought" when deciding whether to warn the government about the charity.
"There is no doubt in my mind that Camila Batmanghelidjh used her forceful personality and friends in very high places to intimidate people to make sure she held sway, whether that was among politicians, the Lords or the media," she said.
Berelowitz said she had visited the charity three times in her former role but Batmanghelidjh tried to prevent her from meeting the children.
It was only on her third visit, when she turned up unannounced, that she was able to see some of the charity's projects – but she saw very few children using the charity's services, she said.
After visiting projects in Southwark, said Berelowitz, she "came away with a feeling of disquiet" and contacted the director of children's services at Southwark Council to say she was concerned that the charity was not using its resources to good effect.
"There was a gap between the rhetoric and the reality," she said. "I'd heard that there was this extraordinary need, so it was troubling that no one was using the services on the day I visited."
She said she visited youth mental health services, an after-school club and what she described as "feeding time" for the beneficiaries, but each of these facilities was underused.
Asked why she did not report the matter to the government, she said it would have been challenging to take a stand against Batmanghelidjh who was "constantly telling you about her relationships with people in high places".
She said: "I was acutely aware that she occupied a powerful position and I honestly don't know that my voice would have been a good counterpoint."