The defunct charity Kids Company was a “victim of its own success”, the High Court heard today.
The former BBC executive Alan Yentob, who chaired Kids Company for 18 years until its collapse in 2015, became visibly upset during the hearing as he made an impassioned defence of the charity and its founder and former chief executive Camila Batmanghelijdh.
The Official Receiver is seeking to secure disqualification from senior positions for periods of up to six years against Yentob and six other trustees, plus Batmanghelijdh, for their roles in its demise.
In his third day’s evidence, Yentob was cross-examined by defence lawyers about his role at the charity.
Rupert Butler of the law firm Leverets, acting on behalf of Batmanghelidjh, asked Yentob about the Metropolitan Police inquiry into the charity after its closure, which eventually found no wrongdoing, and more broadly about the relationship the charity had with the police and local authorities.
“Very good,” he replied. “The police thought it was a tragedy it [Kids Company] had to close.”
He also defended the charity’s use of taxis to ferry children to a Christmas party one year and reports of children being presented with gifts.
Yentob said the taxis were used because of safeguarding issues, and little gifts were signs of affection, which were all part of Batmanghelidjh’s unique, holistic approach that could reach some children in a way that others could not.
At this point Butler shared with the court a small yellow figurine he had received as a gift from Batmanghelidjh.
Yentob also praised Batmanghelidjh’s “extraordinary ability” to fundraise and find people to support the charity.
Butler asked Yentob about the nature of the charity’s work and the severity of some of the issues its service users faced.
The TV presenter said he remembered at least two or three occasions when people said they wanted to kill themselves and it would often be Batmanghelidjh who they would contact because they “all had her number”.
Butler asked: “A few [service users] were also lost to gang violence?”
Yentob said there were instances where some had turned up to the charity’s premises with a gun.
Butler suggested the charity was a “victim of its own success”.
“You could say that,” Yentob replied.
Butler shared a previous testimony from Anthony Hannon, a witness for the OR, who described the charity’s ability to access grants as “lamentable”.
Yentob said that was a “disgraceful comment to make”.
He also recalled stepping down from his BBC post in December 2015 because some of the reporting about Kids Company at the time was “ridiculous”, and agreed with Butler that Batmanghelidjh was a “media asset” for most of her time at the charity.
The court had previously heard that the charity had been “fobbed off” by the government at least 82 times, but Yentob painted a different picture under questioning by Butler.
Butler read out an email correspondence to the court from September 2014 from Lord James Lupton, then co-treasurer of the Conservative Party, who had told Batmanghelidjh to “keep the faith” as she advocated on behalf of the charity.
Yentob recalled another meeting with Oliver Letwin just before Christmas 2014 and how the then-civil society minister had been “deeply apologetic” after he was unable to secure £20m in support for the charity he had previously said “it should have” from the Troubled Families fund.
It was awarded £4.3m in cross-departmental funding for 2015/16 at the time.
Earlier this week, Yentob told the High Court that the charity had nothing to hide from the government.
The 10-week trial continues.