Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity has said it will return any donations raised at a men-only charitable event that is at the centre of allegations of groping and sexual harassment.
The Charity Commission and the Fundraising Regulator said today they were looking into the event run by the Presidents Club Charitable Trust, which holds annual gala dinners in aid of charities including Gosh Children’s Charity, where young women hired as hostesses were allegedly subject to groping, flashing and lewd comments by male attendees, according to a report in the Financial Times, published last night.
The Institute of Fundraising, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the action group Charity Women have condemned the alleged behaviour reported by the FT, which sent an undercover reporter posing as one of the hostesses to the event at the Dorchester Hotel in central London last week.
The reporter said she and other hostesses, selected for being "tall, thin and pretty", had been groped, had hands put up their skirts and been invited into bedrooms by male attendees, while one said a man had exposed his penis to her.
The Presidents Club has hosted the event for more than 30 years and has passed on the proceeds to more than 200 charities, largely connected to children and health, according to its website, but Gosh Children’s Charity was the only charity named in the FT story.
In a statement, Gosh Children’s Charity said it had had no involvement with the event and did not know it had been due to benefit from it.
"We would never knowingly accept donations raised in this way," it said.
"Due to the wholly unacceptable nature of the event, we are returning previous donations and will no longer accept gifts from the Presidents Club Charitable Trust."
The Presidents Club had an income of just over £2m in the year to 31 October 2016, of which £1.6m was generated through last year’s annual dinner, according the latest set of accounts filed with the commission. It spent £2.2m, largely on donations to charities.
Three trustees are listed on the commission’s website: the property moguls Bruce Ritchie and Harvey Soning, and the academy chain sponsor David Meller.
Tracy Howarth, head of regulatory compliance at the commission, said the regulator was assessing the allegations "as a matter of urgency" and would be contacting the Presidents Club.
She said the public would "rightly be dismayed by the reports they have read today and will consider that the alleged behaviour has no place being taken in the name of charity, whether raising funds for good causes or not".
She said: "Charities have a duty to fundraise responsibly and in line with their values. Trustees must also consider the wellbeing and protection of staff and all those who come into contact with their charity, not just those they are there to help."
A spokeswoman for the Fundraising Regulator said: "The Code of Fundraising Practice sets out clear principles for all fundraising organisations to follow. The values that underpin the code include a requirement to be ‘open, honest and respectful’."
She said the regulator would be considering the FT investigation’s findings and would "shortly decide on an appropriate regulatory course of action for the Presidents Club".
Peter Lewis, chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising, said the behaviour reported was absolutely unacceptable and "has no place in charity fundraising whatsoever".
"No staff, attendees or volunteers at fundraising events should ever have to put up with the reported actions that took place at this event," he said.
"There can be no excuse – no amount of money raised would make this kind of behaviour acceptable."
He said all fundraising should be legal and follow the code.
"Every charity should always consider whether to accept or refuse any donations if those donations are from sources not in line with the charity’s values or long-term interests," he said.
Elizabeth Chamberlain, head of policy at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said she doubted many charities would want to knowingly take money raised from such events and would be horrified to be associated with it.
"Charities would think hard about whether it's worth damaging their own reputations," she said. "Accepting donations would suggest they approved of how the money was raised."
Lucy Caldicott, chief executive of youth charity Uprising, who is a committee member of Charity Women, which champions women in the voluntary sector, described the abuse and harassment reported as "jaw-dropping".
She said: "This abuse of power is completely unacceptable in a place of work and no member of staff should have to put up with it. Time’s up for this behaviour in 2018."
The Presidents Club did not respond to Third Sector’s request for comment but told the FT in a statement: "The Presidents Club recently hosted its annual dinner, raising several million pounds for disadvantaged children.
"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."