U.K.’s ‘Most Un-P.C.’ Charity Dinner Faces Harassment Accusations

LONDON — British politicians, charities and businesses voiced outrage on Wednesday after a report that some of the men who attended an all-male black-tie charity dinner had groped, verbally harassed or propositioned young women hired as servers.

The fallout from the report, by The Financial Times, reached the floor of Parliament, where Jess Phillips, a Labour lawmaker, said, “What happened was women were bought as bait for men, who were rich men.”

Anne Milton, an education minister in the Conservative government, said that David Meller, co-chairman of the group that had held the dinner, had stepped down as a member of the board of the Department for Education. Maria Miller, a Conservative lawmaker and chairwoman of the Women and Equalities Committee, said the law against sexual harassment should be made tougher.

One of the prizes auctioned at the event, held at a London hotel, included tea with Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England. The central bank said on Wednesday that he would not follow through.

Great Ormond Street children’s hospital in London said that it would return money raised for it by the group that organized the event, the Presidents Club Charitable Trust, and would no longer take its donations. The National Council for Voluntary Organizations told its members not to accept contributions from the trust.

WPP, one of Britain’s largest advertising and public affairs companies, which bought a table for the event this year and in years past, said it was unaware of the conduct described in the article, but that it would not take part in the dinner again.

The report is all the more remarkable for coming amid the heightened sensitivity of the #MeToo era, when career-ending revelations of sexual harassment and abuse have become regular occurrences.

The Financial Times sent reporters under cover to work as “hostesses” for the Presidents Club dinner and auction last Thursday. The annual ritual for prominent men in business and media, where alcohol flows freely, raised about $3 million this year. The newspaper reported that criteria for the job included being “tall, thin and pretty,” and wearing “skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels.”

The dinner, held since the 1980s, was described in the article as “the most un-P.C. event of the year.” Items auctioned included a night at a strip club.

Mr. Meller’s company, the Meller Group, said that neither he nor anyone else there would address the Financial Times report. The other chairman of the charitable trust, Bruce Ritchie, is the owner and chief executive of a large real estate firm, Residential Land. The company said he had no immediate comment.

The host of this year’s event, the British comedian and writer David Walliams, said on Twitter that he had been there “in a strictly professional capacity and not as a guest,” and that he had left immediately after appearing on stage.

“I did not witness any of the kind of behavior that allegedly occurred and am absolutely appalled by the reports,” he added.

The Presidents Club said in a statement: “The organizers are appalled by the allegations of bad behavior at the event asserted by the Financial Times reporters. Such behavior is totally unacceptable. The allegations will be investigated fully and promptly and appropriate action taken.”

The hostesses were hired by Artista, a company that organizes events and is headed by Caroline Dandridge.

“I was not aware of any claims of sexual harassment but the kind of behavior alleged is completely unacceptable,” Ms. Dandridge said in a statement. “I am checking with the staff and any complaints will be dealt with promptly and fairly. Anyone working at an event should be treated professionally and with respect at all times.”

The article said that Ms. Dandridge had warned the hostesses that men might get “annoying” and that “some girls hate it.” It also said the women were encouraged to drink and were required to sign a nondisclosure agreement. The more reticent ones were urged to interact more with the men, including being prodded not to spend much time in the restroom.

The Financial Times reported that one woman said a man had shown her his penis, one said a guest had asked if she was a prostitute, one said a man had suggested she remove her underwear and dance on a table, and others said that men touched them or invited them to rooms upstairs.

In a BBC interview, the reporter who wrote the article, Madison Marriage, said she had herself been groped.

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