Kids Company founder demands apology from Gove and criticises ‘smear campaign’

Sam Blewett, PA Political Correspondent
·3 min read

Kids Company founder Camila Batmanghelidjh has demanded Michael Gove apologise to children who lost support from the collapsed charity after she won a High Court disqualification battle.

She accused the senior minister on Thursday of having been “really disingenuous” and hit out over a “smear campaign”, accusing former Downing Street aide Dominic Cummings of briefing against the organisation.

The charity, which supported vulnerable young people in London and Bristol, had a number of famous backers, including former prime minister David Cameron, but it was wound up in 2015.

The closure came shortly after police launched a subsequently-dropped investigation into unfounded allegations of abuse and exploitation, following the broadcast of a BBC Newsnight report.

Earlier this month, the charity’s trustees said they had been “exonerated” when Mrs Justice Falk concluded after a 10-week trial that no disqualification order should be made against them.

Ms Batmanghelidjh said Mr Gove, now the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, had initially supported the charity’s work and handed her a CBE when he was in the Department for Education.

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Michael Gove should apologise to children who lost support when Kids Company collapsed, the charity’s founder said (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

“By 2015 he was saying he never wanted Kids Co funded, you know, and I find it very difficult when people change colours,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.

“I can live without Michael Gove’s apology but the staff and the children are owed an apology from Michael Gove, (former Conservative MP) Oliver Letwin, all these people who promised that they were going to help us resolve the fact that children were pouring in through our doors, you know, and the reason I clashed with the Cabinet Office was because when I realised they’re not taking responsibility.”

Ms Batmanghelidjh also hit out against Mr Cummings, the Vote Leave director who was Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief adviser until December.

“I personally think it was a smear campaign and I think there were two targets,” she said.

“One is, I believe, David Cameron, because he was seen to have chosen us as Big Society and I think the Brexit team wanted to discredit him, because I don’t understand why Dominic Cummings, whom we had never met, was briefing against us in 2015.

“And I think another bit was campaigning for child protection issues and I think the country has no capacity to address its child protection problems.

“And I think we got sandwiched between these two concerns and that was why there was such a ferocious attack on us.”

A Government spokesman said it is “committed to levelling up outcomes for every young person, no matter their background or circumstance”.

He added: “The problems surrounding Kids Company that led to its closure have been well documented.”

The Official Receiver (OR) brought High Court proceedings against Ms Batmanghelidjh, as well as seven former trustees, including the BBC’s ex-creative director Alan Yentob.

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Camila Batmanghelidjh said she believes Dominic Cummings and the Vote Leave team wanted to discredit former prime minister David Cameron (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The OR argued Ms Batmanghelidjh and the former trustees were “unfit” to hold company directorships as a result of their handling of the charity.

But, in a ruling on February 12, Mrs Justice Falk rejected the case and praised the “enormous dedication” the founder showed vulnerable young people.

“The public need no protection from these trustees,” she ruled.

“On the contrary, this is a group of highly impressive and dedicated individuals who selflessly gave enormous amounts of their time to what was clearly a highly challenging trusteeship.”

A statement issued on behalf of the former trustees said: “Kids Company was forced to close in August 2015 following what the judge records as ‘unfounded allegations’ of child abuse, which made fundraising from private and government sources impossible.

“We are pleased that finally the facts have been gathered and assessed in a court of law, and that Mrs Justice Falk has exonerated both the former trustees and Kids Company chief executive Camila Batmanghelidjh.”