British detectives have met with representatives of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) over allegations that a leading presenter paid a teenager for sexually explicit photos. But police said they have not opened a criminal investigation, and a lawyer for the young person denied anything inappropriate had happened.
The United Kingdom’s publicly funded national broadcaster has suspended the male star, who has not been named, over allegations he gave a youth 35,000 pounds ($45,000) starting in 2020 when the young person was 17.
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Though the age of sexual consent in the UK is 16, it is a crime to make or possess indecent images of anyone under 18.
London’s Metropolitan Police force said detectives were “assessing the information discussed at the meeting and further enquiries are taking place to establish whether there is evidence of a criminal offence being committed”.
“There is no investigation at this time,” the force said.
The Sun newspaper, which first reported the allegations, said that the young person’s mother had complained to the BBC in May but that the presenter had remained on the air. The parents then went to the tabloid with the story.
In a further twist, a lawyer for the young person – who also has not been named – told the BBC that “nothing inappropriate or unlawful has taken place between our client and the BBC personality”. The lawyer said the allegations reported in The Sun were “rubbish”.
The lawyer said the young person sent a denial to The Sun newspaper on Friday evening, when it first published the allegation, saying there was “no truth” to it, the BBC said.
The newspaper defended its actions, saying it “reported a story about two very concerned parents who made a complaint to the BBC about the behaviour of a presenter and the welfare of their child”.
“Their complaint was not acted upon by the BBC. We have seen evidence that supports their concerns. It’s now for the BBC to properly investigate,” the newspaper said.
BBC News said it did not know the identity of the young person and had not spoken directly to them, nor had it seen The Sun’s evidence.
The BBC has been scrambling to stem a growing crisis since the claims were first published by The Sun over the weekend. It said in a statement Sunday that it “first became aware of a complaint in May,” but that “new allegations were put to us on Thursday of a different nature”.
The broadcaster said that “the BBC takes any allegations seriously and we have robust internal processes in place to proactively deal with such allegations”. It said the corporation had also been in touch with “external authorities,” but did not specify whether that was the police.
“This is a complex and fast-moving set of circumstances and the BBC is working as quickly as possible to establish the facts in order to properly inform appropriate next steps,” the BBC said.
“We can also confirm a male member of staff has been suspended.”
The presenter’s name has not been disclosed, but that has not stopped fevered speculation on social media about the man’s identity.
Several of the BBC’s best-known stars spoke up to say it wasn’t them and even threatened to take legal action against online accusers.
Radio host Nicky Campbell said it had been “a distressing weekend, I can’t deny it, for me and others falsely named”.
“Today I am having further conversations with the police in terms of malicious communication and with lawyers in terms of defamation,” Campbell said on his BBC radio programme.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman, Max Blain, said that the allegations were “concerning”, but that the government had been “assured that the BBC is investigating this matter quickly”.
“The first thing to do is establish the facts and ensure they are set out at the appropriate time,” he said.
The situation comes weeks after commercial UK broadcaster ITV faced its own scandal when Phillip Schofield, a longtime host on the channel’s popular morning show, quit in May, admitting he had lied about an affair with a much younger colleague.
ITV executives were summoned to Parliament to answer questions about whether the broadcaster had a “toxic” work culture and had covered up misconduct by stars.
The BBC faces greater scrutiny than other broadcasters because of its status as a national institution funded through an annual licence fee of 159 pounds ($204) paid by all households with a television.
It has been hit by several scandals involving its stars over the years, most notoriously when longtime children’s TV host Jimmy Savile was exposed after his death in 2011 as a pedophile who abused children and teens over several decades.