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Minister reprimanded for attending scandal-hit gala

media captionTheresa May said more work needed to be done for women "to be accepted and respected as equals".

A government minister has been reprimanded by No 10 for attending a men-only gala that led to allegations of sexual harassment and groping.

Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi said he attended The Presidents Club fundraiser but left early.

The BBC understands Mr Zahawi was called to Downing Street on Wednesday to meet chief whip Julian Smith.

Prime Minister Theresa May said she accepted Mr Zahawi's explanation, but was "appalled" at reports of the event.

The Presidents Club said it was closing and would no longer hold events after an undercover reporter for the Financial Times revealed hostesses were subject to groping and lewd comments.

Mrs May, who is in Davos, said she understood that Mr Zahawi had left early from the event, but that such dinners should not take place.

"Frankly I was appalled," she said. "I thought that sort of approach to women, that objectification of women, was something that we had left behind."

The Metropolitan Police said it had not received any complaints about the Presidents Club dinner last Thursday.

Why was the dinner controversial?

The dinner and auction - which has taken place annually for over 30 years and raised £20m for children's charities - was held at the Dorchester Hotel in central London and attended by senior figures in business and finance.

media captionHow The Presidents Club scandal unfolded

The FT revealed the 130 hostesses were told to wear skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels, and made to sign a non-disclosure agreement before starting work.

Auction prizes included lunch with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a trip to a London strip club and plastic surgery "to spice up your wife".

It is understood that Mr Johnson did not agree to support the event and will not take part in the lunch.

What have politicians said?

image copyrightUK Parliament
image captionChildren and families minister Nadhim Zahawi said he had attended the scandal-hit event but left early

Culture Secretary Matt Hancock also said he was appalled and it was a "good thing" that The Presidents club had shut down.

He told the BBC Breakfast programme that he understood his colleague, Mr Zahawi, had been invited because it was a charity fundraiser.

Asked if Mr Zahawi should stay in his role, Mr Hancock said it was a "matter for the whips and the prime minister, rather than for me".

How have charities reacted?

The organisation said it would distribute its remaining funds to children's charities, although some - including Great Ormond Street children's hospital - have said they will return any donations they have already received.

The Charity Commission also said it was investigating the claims "as a matter of urgency".

Have there been calls for attendees to resign?

On Wednesday, Mr Zahawi, MP for Stratford-on-Avon, tweeted that he arrived at the event at 20:00 GMT and left at 21:35 GMT as he "felt uncomfortable", but said he did not see any of the "horrific" events reported.

He also tweeted that he would never attend a men-only function again.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said Mr Zahawi should "consider his position" after attending a "clearly horrible event".

"It's very surprising to me that he didn't report back on what happened," she said.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

The minister for digital and the creative industries, Margot James, told Newsnight that the event represented "the very worst form of sexism with a smile on its face".

But she stood by Mr Zahawi and his claim of an early exit.

"That indicates to me that he was shocked by the events, didn't like the culture, the atmosphere, and left," she said.

media captionLabour MP Jess Philips: 'Lads' culture has no place in country'

But Labour's Sarah Jones said Mr Zahawi should resign if he did not report his concerns and had attended on previous occasions.

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner also called for an investigation into his attendance.

Earlier on Wednesday, a Downing Street spokesman said the prime minister had confidence in Mr Zahawi and he was not being referred for investigation.

One of the organisers, David Meller, quit his non-executive role on the Department for Education board following the reports.

What happened at the event?

media captionFinancial Times journalist Madison Marriage: “I was groped several times”

Madison Marriage, the reporter who worked at the event, said she and "numerous other hostesses" were groped at the dinner.

She told BBC Newsnight: "It's a hands up skirts, hands on bums but also hands on hips, hands on stomachs, arms going round your waist unexpectedly.

"This isn't, I suppose, a high-level groping, but one of the strangest things was you could be talking to a man and he'd suddenly start holding your hand."

She said there were other women there "who had absolutely no idea that was the kind of event it would be".

Who has cut ties with the gala?

Before the fundraiser announced it was closing, a number of businesses said they would cut ties with the event - including WPP, the world's biggest advertising agency, and real estate investment business Frogmore.

British-Asian businessman, Rami Ranger, told the BBC Asian Network that men were warned not to "misbehave" prior to the dinner, which he was invited to by a friend and did not pay for.

Mr Ranger said he was "horrified" by the revelations and would never attend a men-only event again.

Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI director-general, said: "If even half of what's been written about this event is true, it is deplorable and confirms how far we have still to go to stamp out sexual harassment."

Ann Francke, CMI chief executive, told the BBC: "If you're a captain of industry in 2018, do you really want your shareholders, your customers, your employees to see you associated with things like this?

"And all of the people who attended should have thought about that before they walked through that door."

Comedian and children's author David Walliams, who is not the subject of any allegations, was the compere for the evening.

He said he "did not witness any of the kind of behaviour that allegedly occurred", but added that he was "absolutely appalled" by the reports and he would be donating his fee to the Children's Trust.

TV presenter Jonny Gould, who was the auctioneer at the dinner, said he had "never witnessed any of the alleged behaviour of guests at this event nor in previous years".

He added: "If I had, I would not have continued to work at the event."

What did the hotel say?

The Dorchester said it was "deeply concerned" and was looking into the claims.

A spokesman for the Artista agency, which recruited the hostesses, said: "I was not aware of any claims of sexual harassment but the kind of behaviour alleged is completely unacceptable.

"I am checking with the staff and any complaints will be dealt with promptly and fairly."

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Related Topics

  • Stratford-upon-Avon
  • Nadhim Zahawi

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