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Oxfam scandal: No 10 refuses to say if it has full confidence in DfID officials

The charity is facing mounting criticism over its handling of sex allegations.

Oxfam chiefs are meeting International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt for crisis talks (Nick Ansell/PA)
Oxfam chiefs are meeting International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt for crisis talks (Nick Ansell/PA)

Downing Street has refused to say it has full confidence in senior Government officials after a former Cabinet minister claimed they knew about allegations of sex abuse by aid workers.

Oxfam chiefs are meeting International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt for crisis talks following claims of sexual misconduct by its staff.

The charity is facing mounting criticism over its handling of sex allegations, but has denied it tried to cover up the use of prostitutes by workers in Haiti in 2011.

Former aid secretary Priti Patel said on Sunday that “people knew in DfID (Department for International Development)” about wider problems of sex abuse in the aid sector.

Ms Patel said she had not been aware of allegations about Oxfam but had raised directly concerns about abuse in the sector.

Asked if the Prime Minister Theresa May retained full confidence in senior DfID officials, a No 10 spokesman said: “The Prime Minister, of course, has full confidence in the Secretary of State to lead this department, a department which has already taken action on this issue.”

Ms Patel said she did her own research about the issue before making a speech to the United Nations General Assembly.

She told Pienaar’s Politics on BBC Radio 5 Live that she raised concerns with the department about sex abuse by aid workers.

“People knew in DfID, I raised this directly with my department at the time,” she said.

“I had, I had quotes from you know the United Nations reports on the number of people. I think even the secretary general last year said that there were 120 cases involving something like over 300 people – and that was just the tip of the iceberg.”

Asked if there had been a cover-up culture, she replied: “Well put it this way. My former department did not raise this issue with me. I raised it with them through my own investigations and my own research.”

Oxfam received £31.7 million in government funding in 2016/17.

Former international development secretary Priti Patel (David Mirzoeff/PA)

Ms Mordaunt has warned the “scandal” has put its relationship with the Government at risk.

She said on Sunday that the charity had lied and failed in its “moral leadership” by failing to fully disclose details of its investigation into the misconduct to relevant authorities.

Charities, including Oxfam, have been told they will have funding withdrawn if they fail to comply with authorities over safeguarding issues.

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.”

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

International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The charity said allegations that under age girls may have been involved were not proven.

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.

An Oxfam spokesman said: “We are shocked and dismayed about the latest revelations from Chad.

“While we can’t corroborate the information at the moment it highlights again unacceptable behaviour by a small number of people and the need for a sector-wide approach to tackle the problem.

“Since the Haiti case in 2011 we have introduced a range of measures to prevent sexual abuse and misconduct happening in the first place and improve how we handle any allegations.”

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