This Is Not A Show Trial

Watching the Kids Company Public Affairs Committee session was like witnessing a bad episode of Newsnight combined with a scene from The Crucible. From the outset the framework established for the committee’s purpose was biased. It was, in the words of Chairman, Bernard Jenkin ‘… to learn some lessons. We want to learn about what your charity was actually doing, whether the model it adopted was in some way flawed’. Despite stating it was not a show trial, it felt like one. Within the first five minutes of Ms Batmanghelidjh explaining how young people were assessed to ascertain their level of need, Mr Jenkin had interrupted by demanding to know her educational qualifications. This seemed bizarre considering she is CEO of a charity with a twenty-year track record. It would be almost like asking the CEO of HSBC what grade he received in maths. When she pointed out that Kids Company employed a team of professional psychotherapists, psychiatric nurses and social workers to carry out assessments, the line of questioning abruptly ended. Indeed, any descriptions Ms Batmanghelidjh or Mr Yentob gave of the workings of the organisation felt unwelcome. The premise from the start was that Kids Company had failed because of internal flaws. But this fact is disputed.

An hour and a half into the session, Ms Batmanghelidjh had the opportunity to explain why Kids Company closed. According to her statement, ‘The reason the charity closed was the sexual abuse allegations that were unfounded. The charity did not close because it was badly run. Numerous independent evaluations have confirmed that the charity was well run. You’re holding your evidence of the basis of the Daily Mail and a group of other media providers. You don’t have, and you haven’t done, the rigorous research that is required in order to determine whether the charity and its structures were failing.’ At this point, the tension in the room was palpable. However, it was noticeable that none of sources critical of Kids Company that were quoted by the committee were being attributed. Yet the assumption of negligence was fixed from the outset. So much so that Mr Jenkin felt able not just to ask, but caveat a question to Mr Yentob with, ‘Let’s have the honesty that I think you are perfectly capable of and want to be… what are the mistakes in retrospect that you should not have made?’ Although prefacing the question by assuring Mr Yentob, ‘this is not an accusation’, it felt like one. It’s worth remembering that Kids Company was not closed down because of managerial or financial negligence. It was closed down deliberately by its trustees because of a sexual abuse allegation. One can only presume in the interest of balance, that the committee will be calling Chris Cook, the political editor of the Newsnight programme in which these allegations appeared, to ask what are the mistakes in retrospect he should not have made?

Ms Batmanghelidjh certainly doesn’t like short answers, and her knack of sketching out scenes of depravation and social neglect is bound to unnerve a committee made up mainly of MPs. Her inexhaustive attacks on government agencies responsible for child protection succeed only in provoking. She is very clear in her opinion that social services are failing many vulnerable children, a position that alienated the committee from the outset. But nevertheless, it was quite hard to watch Mr Flynn be quite so ill-mannered towards Ms Batmanghelidjh. To accuse a woman in her fifties, who founded and ran two important youth organsations: Kids Company and before that, Place To Be, that she is talking ‘psychobable’ and then to ask, ‘Please don’t treat us like a prime minister you are trying to get 3 million out of,’ is at best inappropriate. At worst, it smacks of bullying. Watching Mr Jenkins trying to catch Ms Batmanghelidjh in a net of culpability using Ofstead inspections was like watching a gazelle trying to catch a fly. Was Kids Company inspected by Ofstead? Yes, came the unexpected answer. When? Before our centre opened recently in Bristol. Again, unexpected. Jenkin, on his last legs, demands an exact date. But of course all the files have been put into the hands of the official receiver and Kids Company no longer has access.

The revelations from the session are readily available in the press reporting. Mr Yentob cites a murder following the closure of the charity, but that story been in the public domain since the incident took place in August. The rest of the accusations are recycled from newspaper and television reports. But what is interesting is that the narrative of the closure of Kid’s Company is becoming moulded into fact, when actually, it is still conjecture. The Charity Commission, also under scrutiny in this inquiry, have mounted their own probe. This may produce rigorous conclusions around the reasons for the closure. But it may not. The Metropolitan police continue to investigate the sexual abuse allegations. However, by the time that report comes out the narrative may already be fixed: Kids Company failed because it was badly run. But in this show trial, the jury’s still out.

If you would like to watch the parts of the committee session I have referred to, along with a few others I would recommend, here are the links and the timecodes:

Parliament Live

09:41-09:52
BJ questions CB qualifications. AY lists institutions that endorse KC methodology

09:58-10:03
BJ interrogates CB on giving money and vouches to clients

10:10-10:11
Interchange about Ofstead inspections

10:16-10:18
AY explains that the ‘descending into savagery’ statement formed part of a worst case scenario risk assessment and cites the 2011 riots and the murder following the closure of KC as an example of this happening. BJ suggests it was because kids could no longer afford to pay drug pushers.

11:05-11:09
CB rebukes suggestions that KC was badly run. She cites letters from staff supporting her. These have been deemed inadmissible because names have been removed. CB argues that staff are afraid of attacks by the press

11:15-11:18
BJ poses the question to AY about the ‘mistakes you should not have made’

11:13-11:37
PF interrogates AY about standing in the producers box while CB speaks on the Today programme.

12:01-12:05
CB attacks government child protection services.

12:14-12:16
CB on the £3million government loan. Putting her flat up as collateral.

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