Men-only fundraising club forced to close amid harassment scandal at exclusive London event

A fundraising organization has shut down amid a sexual harassment scandal involving attendees at an event held at London's Dorchester Hotel last week.

Trustees of the Presidents Club announced Wednesday that it would close after a Financial Times (FT) reporter went undercover at the men-only charity event held at the upscale hotel in the city's Mayfair neighborhood. Some of the more than 100 hostesses hired alleged that they were sexually harassed, the report said. More than 300 men attended, including those from the finance and real estate industries.

Journalist Madison Marriage went to the event as a hostess; the women hired were reportedly told to wear revealing black dresses, matching underwear and high heels. Marriage's report alleged that many of the hostesses were subject to groping and inappropriate comments — it does not name any of the men alleged to have behaved inappropriately.

The Dorchester Hotel in London, UK
Cate Gillon | Getty Images
The Dorchester Hotel in London, UK

The 33-year-old Presidents Club produced a program for the dinner and charity auction, where items included lunch with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and afternoon tea with Bank of England Governor Mark Carney. The FT reported that Johnson was unaware that he had been included in the auction, and the Bank of England said it had not approved any prize for the event. Carney said he was "deeply dismayed that such an event could take place," the Bank of England told the FT.

The Presidents Club has raised more than £20 million ($28.6 million) since it was founded and last week's dinner raised more than £2 million, Marriage reported. However, beneficiaries including London's Great Ormond Street Hospital for children and Evelina London Children's Hospital said they would return previous donations.

Those on the guest list included Andrew Scott, chief operating officer for Europe for advertising group WPP. The company sponsored a table at the event last week, and on Wednesday morning its chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell, who did not attend, said it was withdrawing its support for the Presidents Club. He told the BBC that people at WPP's table "saw nothing of that kind" in relation to the alleged behavior by some guests and added that it was regrettable that it had to withdraw because the charity had done "a lot of good work."

Other table sponsors included spread-betting company CMC Markets and real estate business Frogmore, the FT report said. The Presidents Club was jointly chaired by David Meller, who has since resigned from a role at the U.K.'s Department for Education.

Politician Nadhim Zahawi, the U.K.'s undersecretary of state for children and families, also attended, but said he left the event early. He was asked to explain his attendance by the chief whip on Wednesday, the Daily Telegraph reported and a government source told the newspaper that U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May was "appalled" by what has been reported.

During a parliamentary debate about the issue Wednesday, Labour politician Jess Phillips said: "Women were bought as bait for men, for rich men, not a mile from where we stand, as if that is acceptable behavior. It is totally unacceptable."

The Presidents Club trustees said in a statement given to the FT that it would distribute any remaining funds to children's charities.