Camila Batmanghelidjh treats festival crowd to an unexpected conspiracy thriller

17 May
Camila Batmanghelidjh

Camila Batmanghelidjh

Barely pausing for breath, Kids Company founder Camila Batmanghelidjh took her audience on a roller coaster ride of conspiracy and intrigue when she appeared at Swindon Festival of Literature on Wednesday.

I’ll admit, I was expecting an exploration of what went wrong at Kids Company, and why.

I was fairly sure I wouldn’t be hearing an apology. After all, Camila ends her book Kids – Child protection in Britain: The Truth with the line ‘je ne regrette rien’.

I guessed blame for the failure of the charity might have been laid at the door of civil servants – after all, that’s exactly what she was doing the day after Kids Company folded, on her whistle stop damage limitation tour of any broadcast outlet that would give her airtime.

What I wasn’t expecting was a tale of sinister forces taking down a high-profile charity to damage the credibility of then-prime minister David Cameron.

Names of journalists and broadcasters (one in particular, whom she wouldn’t have been surprised to find in the audience, she said) were trotted out, along with those of senior politicians, civil servants, and even funders.

We were told from the offset: “I urge you to keep an open mind. You have been bombarded with a massive amount of powerful and distorted information via the media.”

We were persuaded to doubt the media, government, and the legal system: “The nation believes in parliament and its agencies,” she said. “We believe in Britain having due process. But there was an abuse of power behind closed doors in relation to how a narrative was formulated.”

The collapse of Kids Company was not, she insisted, because the charity had run out of money. She told the festival audience that the charity had enough funds to keep going for three months. In her book, she writes: “In July 2015, Kids Company had enough money pledged by philanthropists to restructure the charity, meet all liabilities, have three months’ reserves, and have confirmed income for the year ahead.”

The key word there, I think, is ‘pledged’. Anyone who has worked for a charity or not-for-profit knows that ‘pledges’ are very different from cash in the bank.

It was the allegations of abuse at the charities centres, she said, that toppled the first domino. “Whoever took that information to Newsnight intended to destroy the charity, because funders would withdraw their funding thinking the charity was facilitating the abuse of children,” she said.

As an assumption, that stands up.

Leading the charge was the journalist Miles Goslett. Painted as a shady character, Goslett – a quick Google search later reveals – is an investigative reporter who won Scoop of the Year at the prestigious British Press Awards in 2009 for exposing Jimmy Savile’s abuse of children. There’s a body of his work online going back years. His own book An Inconvenient Death: How the Establishment Covered Up the David Kelly Affair was published in April this year – hey, perhaps he’ll be on the lit fest stage in 2019 – so if he’s an agent of the establishment, he has a funny way of going about it.

So what was the reason for figures within government wanting to bring down Kids Company? “It was an attempt to discredit David Cameron via his favourite charity,” Camila maintained. “We were collateral in an attack on David Cameron.”

The other reason Kids Company was taken down, she asserted, was that through its advocacy work it had become a thorn in the side of government – the hand that, to the tune of millions of pounds, was feeding the charity.

In the book she writes: ““I believe Kids Company was closed down malevolently and abruptly because Britain was unable to tolerate seeing its lack of welcome for vulnerable children reflected back at it.”

It’s a convincing argument. Government would have – and did – find it very hard to turn off the tap for a beloved charity. Using clandestine measures to ensure its collapse is entirely plausible.

I left the auditorium feeling like I’d just sat through The Parallax View. Camila Batmanghelidjh came across, to me, as an unreliable narrator. But if she’s being framed by a government and media conspiracy, isn’t that how she would appear? As Jospeh Heller wrote in Catch-22 “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”

And I’m not so naive as to think that government, powerful individuals, and sections of the media aren’t entirely capable of cooking up a story to suit their own ends. “The forces unleashed to damage Kids Company were too powerful to stop” she said.

What I am convinced of, is that Kids Company did some amazing work with many, many incredibly disadvantaged children and young adults, and that Camila Batmanghelidjh cared very, very deeply about them.

When she said underfunded and under-resourced statutory bodies in child protection and the health services were referring vulnerable and damaged children to Kids Company, I believed her 100 percent.

Writing in the Festival Chronicle after Camila’s 2012 appearance, Louisa Davison reported: “Kids Company listened and understood why abused children act as they do, and has filled a gap in the system where they are are routinely ignored and demonised, treated as insignificant.”

Right up to the last minute, this is what Kids Company was doing – I have no doubt. And the loss of Kids Company will have left a gaping hole in the system of care for a section of society to which it is all too easy to turn a blind eye.

I’ll leave the last word to Camila Batmanghelidjh: Asked if she had any regrets, she said: “I am at peace because we gave those children the very best we could.”

Words by Peter Davison. Image © Fernando Bagué

 

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