Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Identify yourselves, spouters of verbal ectoplasm!

Camila Batmanghelidjh was accused of speaking 'verbal ectoplasm' at the Kids’ Company hearing

Donald Macintyre
Thursday 15 October 2015 22:14
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Kids Company founder Camila Batmanghelidjh felt shouting would not improve matters
Kids Company founder Camila Batmanghelidjh felt shouting would not improve matters

It’s unlikely that the Tory Public Administration Committee chairman Bernard Jenkin and Camila will be eloping together to some dream Pacific island any time soon. At one point in the hearing the Kids’ Company chairman demanded of Jenkin “On what basis “have you decided that this was a ‘failing’ charity?” “It’s gone bust,” said Jenkin breezily. This was just a warm-up.

As Alan Yentob insisted that there had been “no doubts” – a view very much not shared by the incredulous MPs - about Kids’ Company’s financial viability in 2014, and that it had been only unsubstantiated allegations of sexual abuse within the organisation that had done for it, the former CEO tried again. “Can I please contribute to this question because there is a big piece of missing information…” Jenkin: Mr Jones is cross-examining Mr Yentob. Please don’t interrupt.” When she attempted to intervene again Jenkin yelled “ORDER!” An unabashed Ms declared: “I don’t know that shouting is going to get me to behave any better.”

It wasn’t that she had been denied her say. It was that not a single MP seemed to find her answers satisfying. Or Mr Yentob’s much more so. “You've given a non-stop spiel, mostly of psychobabble... verbal ectoplasm,” complained Labour’s Paul Flynn to Ms Batmanghelidjh. Certainly the MPs had made little headway on why a client had reportedly been bought a pair of shoes for £150. ”The structure of that question is intensely disrespectful to vulnerable children,” she replied. A £580,000 tax bill had been “conceptualised” she insisted. “At one point Yentob had his head in his hand but maybe he was taking a break. The session lasted three hours, after all.

Earlier there had been titters when the chairman asked Camila and Alan Yentob to “identify yourself for the record.” Unsurprisingly given that the witnesses are two of the most easily recongisable and colourful—literally so in the case of Ms Batmanghelidjh, in signature turban and clad in an arresting array of tartans - figures in British public life. Yentob is after all Creative Director of the BBC, and had been when he accompanied the CEO to the Corporation for a Today programme interview, and sat in with the producer while it took place. “I thought was just there to listen to what Camilla said” he explained - even though he could presumably have done that at home. “If it was intimidating [to BBC staff] I regret it.”

The MPs were anxious to assure both witnesses that their intentions had obviously been of the best. And Ms Batmanghelidjh, was eloquent about how little discussion there had been of the desperately vulnerable children Kids Company had helped. But it was not a great day for her - or Alan Yentob.

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