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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

British-Iraqi MP Nadhim Zahawi linked to seedy male-only charity dinner

The education minister is facing calls to resign after attending the event at London's Dorchester hotel, at which young female hostesses were allegedly groped and sexually harassed

Nadhim Zahawi, a British-Iraqi MP and the new under-secretary of state for children and families, is said to have felt "uncomfortable" at the event. Mark Kerrison/Alamy Live News
Nadhim Zahawi, a British-Iraqi MP and the new under-secretary of state for children and families, is said to have felt "uncomfortable" at the event. Mark Kerrison/Alamy Live News

Top figures from business and politics, including British-Iraqi MP Nadhim Zahawi, attended a secretive men-only charity dinner in London at which female hostesses were groped and propositioned, it has been claimed.

Mr Zahawi is now facing calls to resign from his role as a child protection minister for attending the event, where young women, including some students, were sexually harassed.

The Financial Times newspaper, which sent two undercover reporters to the annual Presidents Club gala evening, revealed that 130 hostesses were specially hired for the occasion and told to wear skimpy black dresses with matching underwear before being paraded in front of braying men.

The event, held in the ballroom at the Dorchester Hotel on prestigious Park Lane, was attended by 360 men from British business, politics and finance and hosted by comedian David Walliams.

Lots put up for auction included a night at a strip club and a course of plastic surgery, with the invitation: "Add spice to your wife".

The Presidents Club has said it is to close following the emergence of the allegations on Wednesday.

A seating plan for the event, obtained by the FT, listed those due to attend as including Mr Zahawi, a Conservative MP and the new under-secretary of state for children and families.

Mr Zahawi told BBC Newsnight: “I did attend and left early. David Walliams was hosting. I didn’t stay long enough to really comment on the occasion”.

There is no indication that Mr Zahawi acted inappropriately directly towards any of the hostesses or broke any laws. On Twitter, he said he "unequivocally condemned" the behaviour and described the report as "truly shocking".

However, Labour MP Sarah Jones insisted on Wednesday that Mr Zahawi should resign for not reporting what had happened at the dinner.

The SNP’s Lisa Cameron also argued that it was “incongruous” for Mr Zahawi to be a child protection minister when he attended an event like this.

A spokesperson from Mr Zahawi’s parliamentary office confirmed to The National that the MP had felt “uncomfortable” at the event, although refused to elaborate on exactly what had made him feel that way.

A Department for Education spokesperson added: “This charity event was attended [by Mr Zahawi] in a personal capacity. It was not official departmental business and as such we are unable to comment further.”

The department refused to clarify whether Mr Zahawi paid for his ticket himself out of his pocket, or whether he put it on expenses, or whether any UK taxpayer money went towards the ticket.

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Other names listed to attend the event by the FT included Dragons’ Den star Peter Jones, Sir Philip Green, the owner of Topshop, Ocado boss Tim Steiner, and Labour peer and fundraiser Lord Mendelsohn. It is unclear whether everyone on the list showed up on the night.

The host greeted guests at the start of the evening by announcing: "Welcome to the most un-PC event of the year."

Over the course of the six-hour evening, hostesses – some of whom were students trying to make extra cash – were subjected to lewd comments and men putting their hands up their skirts, the FT reported. One said a guest had exposed himself to her.

The newspaper reported that at an after-party, held in a smaller room off the main lobby of the Dorchester, a man described as a prominent society figure had grabbed a hostess by the waist and pulled her in against his stomach.

"You look far too sober," the man was reported as saying. "I want you to down that glass, rip off your knickers and dance on that table."

Women chosen as hostesses were allegedly required to be “tall, thin and pretty”. One is reported as saying: “It’s a Marmite job. Some girls love it, and for other girls it’s the worst job of their life and they will never do it again.”

It was claimed that they were paid £150 for their shift, plus £25 for a taxi home.

The detailed report of the evening comes at a time of intense public debate about issues of sexual harassment in the workplace and pay discrimination against women.

There was a swift backlash against the event, with female MPs speaking out to condemn the alleged activities.

Maria Miller, the chair of the parliamentary committee on women and equalities, tweeted that she hoped every man who attended the event would think twice before accepting another invitation to a men-only event with female hostesses.

Jo Swinson, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said the report was “simply stomach-churning”.

She added: “More than 300 rich businessmen were perfectly happy to attend such an event, which shows the rotten, sexist culture still alive and kicking in parts of the business community.”

Martin Sorrell, chief executive of advertising group WPP, told BBC radio the company would no longer support the charity. Mr Sorrell said he had attended the charity's gala event many years ago and had not seen anything like what was described in the report.

"If true, it's highly regrettable," he said.

David Meller, who helped organise the dinner, quit his role on the Department for Education board on Wednesday amid the ongoing fallout, MPs were told.

The Presidents Club Charitable Trust says on its website it was founded more than three decades ago to raise money for underprivileged children.

Last Thursday's event alone raised more than £2 million for good causes such as Great Ormond Street Hospital for children, according to the FT article.

However, GOSH has said it will return all previous donations from the Presidents Club and will no longer accept gifts from the organisation after the allegations of sexual harassment emerged on Wednesday.

A spokesperson for GOSH said: "We are shocked to hear of the behaviour reported at the Presidents Club Charitable Trust fundraising dinner. We would never knowingly accept donations raised in this way.

"We have had no involvement in the organisation of this event, nor attended and we were never due to receive any money from it.

"All monies raised in our name go to support vital work. However, 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."

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