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David Keighley: Cash with no questions asked. BBC lets Camila’s Kids Company off the hook


Even when the BBC has a major scoop, it cannot any more deliver a programme that reflects the truth or commands any form of authority. Give it an open goal and it misses by ten miles.

That’s because in the world of the Corporation, its own right-on version of social justice, the primacy of public spending and the hackneyed Marxist narrative of the downtrodden underclass swamps every element of its journalism.

Programme maker Lynn Alleway was given unique, close access to Camila Batmanghelidjh as her charity, Kids Company, collapsed last summer. This self-declared saviour of the juvenile downtrodden was in such a narcissistic, self-righteous bubble that she sought to justify every element of this slow-motion car crash as it unfolded. In her eyes, her cause justified anything.

Alleway thus had the kind of direct access for her BBC1 programme Camila’s Kids Company; the inside story that journalists dream about but rarely attain. Her cameras were allowed in as Camila was about to be relieved of her chief executive role; as her battalions of employees wailed in despair as the collapse unfolded; and as Camila, in her wheedling, whining words, sought to stretch the law to keep her disaster of an organisation afloat by juggling finances in every way she could.

Being dramatically close to these events meant that in basic respects, the programme could not miss and in that sense, what emerged was a gripping tale; Camila, in her eyes, could do no wrong because her cause as she defined it justified almost anything.

But since last August, evidence has emerged in spades that whatever Camila was doing, she was incontinent financially to the point of recklessness, and that the claimed caseload of the charity was deliberately and systematically exaggerated, probably, it seems, by tens of thousands. The charity said in its annual reports that it was helping 36,000 children, but the files so far given to social services are around the 2,000 mark.

Not only that, the charity’s main line of effort seemed to be handing out – entirely at Camila’s discretion – wedges of cash each week, in effect providing a private welfare benefits operation. It was a form of patronage designed to make Camila herself look like the Mother Theresa of South London.

From the outset, it was clear that in these crucial areas, Ms Alleway was going to probe – but not too deeply. She accepted at face value Camila’s crude anti-government, anti middle-class, anti-establishment rhetoric that Kids Company was providing a vital service for children that our wicked, cuts-dominated society was not.

For right-on lefties like major donors Coldplay and chairman of the Kids Company Trustees Alan Yentob, this was a cause that therefore could not be resisted and could do no wrong – and Alleway accepted all this with barely a flicker of doubt, despite everything that has since emerged.

She appeared to be totally blind to the fact that her programme’s prime example of a woman Kids Company had helped – a Jamaican artist in her 30s ensconced by Camila in a very comfortable London flat and handed hundreds of pounds each month without question – actually underlined why the charity was totally out of control and distributing on a gargantuan scale the kind of largesse that almost inevitably is a breeding ground for corruption and financial dependency.

There can be no doubt that in today’s Britain, thousands of kids are suffering deprivation. But to ascribe this simplistically to poverty and the lack of public spending is arrant nonsense. At least equally to blame is poor parenting – in all social strata – engendered by factors such as pressures by successive governments and feminists to push as many women away from care of their families towards the workplace and reliance on childcare.

The bottom line is that Kids Company gobbled through £42m of public money and perhaps £100m of cash from a variety of glitzy donors – an astonishing amount, for a charity that was operating primarily in only two London boroughs.

What has now emerged is that despite warning signs going back for years, no one – and especially not Alleway – had ever challenged or scrutinised properly how this money was spent. Basics like who, precisely, was it helping and how?

All we know for certain about outcomes after Alleway’s programme is that kids were fed in the drop-in centres, they received every week envelopes filled with cash and travel vouchers, and Camila thought nothing of using charity resources on anything that took her fancy, including the rental on a £5,000-a-month splendid Art Deco house where Camila appeared to be living. Alleway was indignant about this, but that appeared to be all.

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David Keighley
David Keighley
Former BBC news producer, BBC PR executive and head of corporate relations for TV-am. Director of News-watch.

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