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Oxfam boss quits over aid worker sex scandal

Minister Penny Mordaunt said the charity “must now demonstrate moral leadership” following the allegations.

Oxfam’s deputy chief executive has quit in the wake of the aid worker sex scandal saying she was “ashamed” of what had happened.

Penny Lawrence said she took full responsibility for what had happened on her watch and was sorry for the “harm and distress” it had caused supporters.

Oxfam has faced intense criticism over its handling of sex allegations, including the use of prostitutes by workers in Haiti in 2011.

Ms Lawrence said: “As programme director at the time, I am ashamed that this happened on my watch and I take full responsibility.”

Helen Evans, Oxfam’s former global head of safeguarding, told Channel 4 News she begged senior staff, ministers and the regulator to act about the sexual abuse allegations.

The whistleblower detailed three new allegations made against Oxfam staff overseas in a single day.

She said: “There was one of a woman being coerced to have sex in a humanitarian response by another aid worker, another case where a woman had been coerced in exchange for aid and another one where it had come to our attention where a member of staff had been struck off for sexual abuse and hadn’t disclosed that, and we were then concerned about what he might be doing, and that was three allegations in one day.”

The resignation comes after claims on Monday that the charity was aware of concerns about the conduct of two of the men at the centre of the allegations in Haiti when they worked previously in Chad.

Emerging from crisis talks with Oxfam bosses, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said the charity “must now demonstrate the moral leadership necessary to address this scandal”, as well as “rebuild the trust of the British public,” and the recipients of any funding.

She said: “I was clear that part of an organisation’s moral leadership comes from individuals taking responsibility for their actions.

“I have today also met with the chief executive of the Charity Commission for England and Wales, Helen Stephenson, who informed me that the Commission urgently requested full and frank disclosure of what happened in 2011 from Oxfam and they are considering their next regulatory steps.

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Penny Mordaunt met with Oxfam bosses on Monday following lurid allegations involving the charity

“But the Charity Commission and I agree that it is not only Oxfam that must improve and reach the high standards of safeguarding we require. Right across the charitable sector, organisations need to show leadership, examine their systems, ensure they have clear whistleblowing policies and deal with historical allegations with confidence and trust.

“My absolute priority is to keep the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people safe from harm. In the 21st century, it is utterly despicable that sexual exploitation and abuse continues to exist in the aid sector.”

Announcing her resignation, Ms Lawrence said it was “now clear” that the charity had failed to act on allegations about the behaviour of staff in Chad and Haiti.

She added: “I am desperately sorry for the harm and distress that this has caused to Oxfam’s supporters, the wider development sector and most of all the vulnerable people who trusted us.”

The charity received £31.7 million in Government funding in 2016/17 but the support has been put at risk by the scandal.

Charity Commission director of investigations Michelle Russell said the watchdog was not told the full story at the time Oxfam first investigated allegations of misconduct in 2011.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’ve made very clear that had the details of what has come out over the last few days been told to us, we would have dealt with this very differently.

“We were categorically told there was no abuse of beneficiaries involved in the allegations. Nor were we told that there were issues or possible issues around possible crimes, including those involving minors.”

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Oxfam received £31.7m in Government funding in 2016/17

Four members of Oxfam staff were dismissed and three, including the country director, Roland van Hauwermeiren, resigned before the end of the 2011 investigation.

According to The Times, Oxfam knew about concerns over the conduct of Mr van Hauwermeiren and another man when they worked in Chad before they were given senior roles in Haiti.

Mr Van Hauwermeiren’s attitudes and behaviour towards women were documented, it said.

He also reportedly allowed the other man, a Kenyan, to stay in his job despite handling at least four complaints of sexual harassment or misconduct against him.

Oxfam chief executive Mark Goldring said: “I deeply respect Penny’s decision to accept personal responsibility. Like us, she is appalled at what happened and is determined to do what is best for Oxfam and the people we exist to help.

“I would like to place on record my sincere thanks for the years of dedicated service that Penny has given to Oxfam and the fight against poverty around the world.”

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