Kids Company founder calls for apology from Gove

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Michael Gove should apologise to children who lost support from collapsed charity Kids Company, its founder Camila Batmanghelidjh has said.

Speaking on BBC Woman's Hour, she also said she believed Kids Company was targeted by a "smear campaign".

A government source later told the BBC the charity "was badly run" and "beset by a litany of failures".

Ms Batmanghelidjh's comments follow her High Court win against being disqualified from other organisations.

The ruling cleared former chief executive Ms Batmanghelidjh and seven others of personal wrongdoing.

Kids Company, which supported vulnerable young people in London and Bristol, closed its doors in 2015.

In the run-up to its collapse, the charity was spending around £20m a year, up to a quarter of which came from the government.

A plan to restructure the organisation's finances had been agreed with David Cameron's government, but it was wound up after the Metropolitan Police launched an investigation into sexual assault allegations, following the broadcast of a report on BBC Two's Newsnight.

A year earlier, Kids Company had also been investigated by the National Audit Office and the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts.

Asked on the programme whether she felt she was owed an apology from anyone in government, Ms Batmanghelidjh said Mr Gove, now the Cabinet Office minister, had been "disingenuous".

She said he had initially supported the charity's work and handed her a CBE when he was in the Department for Education, but that by 2015 "he was saying he never wanted Kids Co funded, you know, and I find it very difficult when people change colours".

The state should be stepping up to protect children in care "when their own parents aren't there to protect them", Ms Batmanghelidjh said.

She added: "I can live without Michael Gove's apology but the staff and the children are owed an apology from Michael Gove, [former Conservative MP] Oliver Letwin, all these people who promised that they were going to help us resolve the fact that children were pouring in through our doors."

She also explained why she felt the charity was wrongly tarnished, suggesting it had been subject to a "smear campaign".

"I think there were two targets," she said.

"One is, I believe, David Cameron, because he was seen to have chosen us as Big Society [Mr Cameron's initiative to fund voluntary projects] and I think the Brexit team wanted to discredit him.

"And I think another bit was campaigning for child protection issues and I think the country has no capacity to address its child protection problems.

"And I think we got sandwiched between these two concerns and that was why there was such a ferocious attack on us."

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "The problems surrounding Kids Company that led to its closure have been well documented."

He added that the government was "committed to levelling up outcomes for every young person, no matter their background or circumstance" and pointed to investment of more than £2.4bn a year through the Pupil Premium to support the most disadvantaged pupils, raising the quality of children's social care and targeting support through our catch-up package to those who need the most help in getting back on track as a result of the Covid pandemic.

And a government source said after the Woman's Hour interview: "As two independent official investigations found, Kids Company was badly run, couldn't survive without government handouts and was beset by a litany of failures. That is why the charity collapsed."

High Court ruling

The Official Receiver (OR) brought High Court proceedings against Ms Batmanghelidjh and the former trustees, arguing they were "unfit" to hold directorships because of their handling of the charity.

But, in a ruling on February 12, Mrs Justice Falk rejected the case and said the charity may have survived financially to continue its work had it not closed.

A statement issued after the ruling on behalf of the former trustees said: "Kids Company was forced to close in August 2015 following what the judge records as 'unfounded allegations' of child abuse, which made fundraising from private and government sources impossible.

"We are pleased that finally the facts have been gathered and assessed in a court of law, and that Mrs Justice Falk has exonerated both the former trustees and Kids Company chief executive Camila Batmanghelidjh."

Founded in 1996 in south London, Kids Company provided practical, emotional and educational support to up to 36,000 deprived and vulnerable inner-city children and young people.

It employed more than 600 people, with high-profile supporters including the then prime minister David Cameron.

You can listen to the full Woman's Hour interview here.

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