UK

'Suicide attempts' since Kids Company closure

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Media captionCamila Batmanghelidjh told MPs in a heated exchange that all payments were overseen by three professionals

Leaders of collapsed charity Kids Company have said there were four suicide attempts, stabbings and a murder in the wake of its closure.

Chairman Alan Yentob made the claim as he and founder Camila Batmanghelidjh appeared before MPs where they denied the charity had been badly run.

Mr Yentob said the murder of a boy who had been using Kids Company's services took place five days after it shut.

He said it was related to "the absence of a place for these children to go".

The leaders of Kids Company, which had worked with vulnerable young people, also denied claims of financial mismanagement during the Public Administration Select Committee hearing.

The charity collapsed in August days after receiving a £3m grant from the Cabinet Office and in the midst of a Scotland Yard investigation into allegations of historical sexual abuse.

The closure came after ministers said they wanted to recover the grant - with officials saying they believed conditions attached to the use of the money had not been met.

'Kiss of death'

The pair claimed the charity would not have folded if there had not been "malicious allegations" of sexual abuse.

"Only our finance person and the Cabinet Office knew that the money had hit our account. Suddenly out of the blue we get allegations that we don't even know relate to sexual abuse," said Ms Batmanghelidjh.

"That was the kiss of death for a charity dealing with children."

Mr Yentob said that while he believed the allegations had not come from "anywhere near the Cabinet Office", he believed the leak was malicious.

He said that once it became public the charity was under investigation it had been impossible for them to accept a series of donations lined up from private benefactors and they had to shut.


Analysis

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Michael Buchanan, BBC social affairs correspondent

It's clear from these tetchy exchanges that MPs didn't receive the information they were seeking, and in some cases implied they didn't believe what they were hearing.

The admission by Ms Batmanghelidjh that they hadn't handed over to local councils all the files the charity had on clients when it closed was possibly the only new fact to emerge from more than three hours of questioning.

Her habit of providing an anecdote when a fact was requested infuriated MPs. Their annoyance was matched by the controlled fury of Ms Batmanghelidjh and Mr Yentob, who clearly feel their work with the charity has been thrashed and traduced in recent weeks.

Nobody doubts that Kids Company did some fantastic work with very vulnerable individuals over many years; MPs - and many others - simply wonder if it could have done it more cheaply and effectively.


Committee chairman Bernard Jenkin said MPs had been told the suicide attempts and violence mentioned by Mr Yentob was in part because "desperate kids no longer had money to pay their drug pushers".

But Mr Yentob reacted by saying that was a "terrible allegation".

Mr Yentob, who is also the BBC's creative director, also told the committee:

  • No figure over £5,000 could be spent without the decision being taken to the board and there were quarterly audits
  • The charity should have been restructured earlier. "My great regret and sadness is we perhaps tried to look after too many children and do too much"
  • He put £250,000 of his own money in to the charity
  • When asked about a document, emailed to civil servants in his name, warning of communities helped by Kids Company possibly descending into looting and arson if it closed, Mr Yentob said it was describing a "worst case scenario"
  • Allegations raised by Labour MP Paul Flynn that he used his position to try to influence BBC coverage of the failing charity were "completely untrue". But he acknowledged that when Ms Batmanghelidjh was interviewed on the BBC's Radio 4 Today programme, he had stood alongside the producer, which he accepted could have been regarded as "intimidating"
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Image caption Founder Camila Batmanghelidjh was involved in heated exchanges with MPs

In a series of heated exchanges with MPs, Ms Batmanghelidjh defended the work her charity had been doing, saying:

  • Central government and local authorities "had no interest in admitting the scale of the problems" they were dealing with
  • NHS trusts were referring difficult clients to Kids Company "without paying"
  • There should be an "objective" review of the charity's case load
  • The charity did not hand out hundreds of pounds in client payments "willy-nilly", adding all grants had been properly approved

She also told the committee there were officials in Whitehall who had set out to undermine the charity by briefing against it.

"Some civil servants have been absolutely malicious and unprofessional and have behaved in ways that isn't respectful of a democracy and you need to look into this," she said.

When asked by Mr Jenkin what evidence she had for her allegations, Ms Batmanghelidjh replied: "I will produce it."

The hearing came after documents seen by BBC Newsnight and BuzzFeed News showed the Pilgrim Trust, a charity which disburses about £2m a year, wrote to the Charity Commission in 2002 to raise concerns about Kids Company.

In the letter, Pilgrim Trust director Georgina Naylor noted an "absence of financial acumen from the director of Kids Company".

Image caption Kids Company's chairman of trustees Alan Yentob is also the BBC's creative director

The National Audit Office is investigating grants given to Kids Company, and the charity is also the subject of a statutory investigation by the Charity Commission and an inquiry by the Constitutional Affairs Committee.

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