The founding leader of one of the UK’s largest children’s charities, Kids Company, has been forced to stand down after the Cabinet Office withdrew funding due to accusations of mis-management and financial irregularity.
This follows almost a year of media stories detailing accusations the charity has been handing out money to teenagers addicted to drugs while claiming to help far more children than it actually does.
“I am being silenced,” boss Camila Batmanghelidjh, 52, told the Guardian on Thursday night, alleging: “Some ugly games are being played.” Earlier that day, a joint investigation by Newsnight and BuzzFeed revealed that the government had held back £3 million of funding until the founder stood down from her managerial role.
Iranian-born Batmanghelidjh was educated at the prestigious Sherborne School for Girls in Dorset. She was named in BBC4 Woman’s Hour 100 most powerful women in Britain in 2013 and awarded a CBE. Her charity has been gifted around £30m of taxpayer’s money since 2008 and counts the Prince of Wales, JK Rowling, Sir Richard Branson and Coldplay (who donated £8million) among its backers.
Trouble started, however, when an article in The Spectator last February investigated whether the organization had “become too famous, untouchable, and now acts as a drain on well-meaning donations.” It pointed to serious and un-explained discrepancies in where and what the charity claimed to spend its money on and doubts over the number of children it actually helped.
In March, The Sunday Times spoke to Dominic Cummings, Michael Gove’s former adviser, who said: “The Department for Education officials questioned the financial management of Kids Company and said they did not think taxpayers’ money should be given to it.”
He said that ministers had “accepted this advice,” however Ms. Batmanghelidjh “had written to the PM, who overturned the decision, so Kids Company did get the money.”
A number of ex-employees have expressed concerns about the management to the press since. Diane Hamilton, the interim finance director; Adrian Stones, the human resources chief; and Mandy Lloyd, the director of development all resigned in March, and Jack Widdows who left the charity in 2010, described Batmanghelidjh as a “South London Sepp Blatter”.
The accusations became increasingly explosive. An employee who joined in 2008 wrote: “On Fridays little packages of cash were handed out to every young person through a small window in reception. It was always tense. There were tears. There was shouting. There were threats.”
This was corroborated in The Spectator piece. Joan Woolard, 72, sold her house to give the charity £200,000 and ended up demanding it back. She said: “I was also told that others who visit the charity are given cash allowances to supplement their Jobseekers’ Allowances and to prevent them from stealing or dealing drugs. I don’t think private donors or the government give Kids Company money so that it can be handed out to young people in cash?” She too worried about the “lack of children.”
Journalist Harriet Sergeant wrote about a children’s charity (only revealed to be Kids Company by Buzzfeed this week) in her 2012 book Among the Hoods: “Instead of fifty or sixty young people… there was just one teenager over whom ten staff hovered.”
She described a youngster who started “going to the charity at fifteen. Two years later he was a crack addict… He just picked up money every week, which he spent on his addiction.”
In a bizarre interview with the Guardian, released today, Batmanghelidjh argued the government was deliberately inflicting suffering by imposing austerity measures and seemed to imply that if the secure and successful didn’t support huge welfare spending, they would pay with their lives.
“Kids Company doesn’t have enough money… Their [the government and employed people’s] success will be very limited, because at some point the two shall meet. And when you get a very, very violated individual meeting a very well cared for individual, the violated individual’s rage will bring down the well care for individual.”