Scandal-hit Presidents Club breached ‘key charity law duties’, Charity Commission

The trustees of the Presidents Club, a controversial black-tie event mired in sexual harassment allegations, have been censured by the Charity Commission.

A report by the Commission found “significant failures” at the Charitable Trust, and that the trustees were in breach of a number of “key charity law duties”.

It follows a Financial Times investigation in January exposing alleged instances of sexual harassment at the now-defunct club’s most recent event at The Dorchester hotel.

“The trustees failed fully to recognise or address risks to the reputation of the charity – and its purpose of raising money for good causes – arising from holding an all-male event staffed by female-only event staff, who were subject to instructions on their appearance, including that they wear ‘smart, sexy shoes’,” the report said.

Hostesses at the dinner, hired by an agency, were allegedly told to wear black underwear and “sexy” black shoes for their shift.

The regulator added that trustees’ failure to put in place “clear or adequate procedures and policies” to deal with harassment or improper behaviour at the event was in “stark contrast” to the measures they took to protect the privacy of the guests.

Helen Stephenson, chief executive of the Charity Commission, said: “The allegations made about the event were entirely at odds with what we would expect from any charity when raising funds for such important causes.

“Our report should serve as a warning to others that raising funds for charity does not absolve trustees of their legal duties or moral responsibilities.”

However, the Commission admitted that its call for information did not result in anyone coming forward with allegations of harassment or improper behaviour.

A representative for the trustees said: “We are also surprised at both the report’s muted acknowledgement of the fact that not a single complainant has come forward since the FT’s article was published, and at the weight of credibility it gives to the FT’s reporting of the 2018 dinner.

“The core issues investigated by the Charity Commission in coming to its conclusions concern perceptions rather than any proven facts. We, as trustees, have never and would never condone the sort of alleged behaviour described in the FT article.”

The trustees said they recognise the findings set out in Charity Commission’s report and intend to “comply fully with the regulatory action plan contained in the report”.

Leading figures in business, politics and finance attended the event hosted by comedian and children’s author David Walliams, who is not the subject of any allegations.

The three men listed as the club’s trustees on the Charity Commission website are David Meller, Harvey Soning and Bruce Ritchie.

The Commission found that the trustees did not act with reasonable care and skill as there was a “lack of written contracts” with suppliers, absence of oversight and an absence of awareness of the relevant regulatory guidance.

The trustees also failed to comply with their legal duty to manage charity resources responsibly, specifically “avoiding exposing the charity’s assets, beneficiaries or reputation to undue risk”.

The Commission has issued the trustees with formal regulatory “advice” and agreed an action plan in order to gather in as much of the money raised at the event as possible.

The charity will now be wound up and the remaining funds be given to the causes for which they were intended.

As well as chairing the Meller Group, one of the biggest luxury home and beauty suppliers in the UK, Mr Meller was until January a non-executive board member for the Department for Education and the Apprenticeship Delivery Board.

Mr Soning, 72, is a property developer who chairs agency James Andrew International, which he founded in 1974 following stints at Peachey Property Corporation and Guardian Properties.

Mr Ritchie, another property tycoon, is chief executive and founder of Mayfair-based Residential Land Group.

He was also the joint owner with Marco Pierre White of the White Star Line restaurant group, which included Mirabelle, Drones, Quo Vadis and Criterion.

Throughout its 33-year existence, the dinner had raised a total of around £18 million for 200 charities.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Philip Toscano / PA Wire.