The BBC has suspended its internal investigations into allegations that a top presenter paid a teenager for sexually explicit images while the police decide whether to pursue a criminal case.
In his first public appearance since the crisis broke over the weekend, BBC director-general Tim Davie admitted on Tuesday that there were “clearly going to be [lessons]” after ordering a review of how and when complaints were “red flagged” at the broadcaster.
He also defended the BBC’s existing processes, however, which failed to flag the case to senior management or talk to the presenter until last Thursday — seven weeks after the initial complaint.
The BBC only made two attempts to contact the complainant, who was a family member of the young person, according to a timeline published on Tuesday. “No additional attempts to contact the complainant were made after 6 June”, it said, although the case was held open.
The Metropolitan Police are still considering whether to launch an investigation into the allegations, which The Sun newspaper first published on Friday evening.
Davie said that “as a result of this, the BBC has been asked to pause its own investigations into the allegations while they scope future work”, adding he believed that the broadcaster was navigating a “complex and difficult situation . . . responsibly and judiciously”.
The Met did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Interim BBC chair Dame Elan Closs Stephens, who took over after Richard Sharp stood down last month over a scandal involving a loan to former prime minister Boris Johnson, said on Tuesday that the board was satisfied that Davie had acted “swiftly but with appropriate duty of care”.
The male BBC presenter was suspended on Sunday after allegations of spending tens of thousands of pounds on the images from a young person who was allegedly 17 years old when the first payment was made.
The BBC’s handling of the latest crisis has sparked anger in the corporation’s newsroom, with some demanding greater transparency, and attacks by politicians over the failure to more fully investigate the original complaint.
On Tuesday, Sarah Montague, presenting the World at One on Radio 4, told Davie that “everyone in this building knows who it is and there are an awful lot of people who are having to go on air to say that it’s not them”. BBC stars such as Gary Lineker have felt forced to deny involvement.
Davie admitted that the scandal was “clearly damaging to the BBC — it’s not a good situation”.
Conservative MP Damian Collins, speaking on Radio 4 after Davie, said the BBC should have gone further than just the two attempts to contact the complainant. He added that there remained questions over how the corporation had handled the situation.
The BBC, seeking to address criticism over how it dealt with the allegations, published details of the events leading to the suspension of the presenter last weekend.
According to the BBC’s timeline, its initial attempts to talk to the young person’s family following their complaint in May were unsuccessful.
The broadcaster added that Davie and the board were only informed about the allegations on Thursday — the same day it first talked to the presenter about the matter and decided to take him off the air.
“You’ve got 1,000s of things coming in general complaints,” said Davie. “If they are serious in nature they can either be put to a serious case team, when there’s obvious criminality or some triggers, or the corporate investigations team, assessing what goes into that bucket versus what requires more investigation.”
The family originally approached the BBC via a visit to its offices and then through contact with its audience services team, lodging a “serious complaint” that was immediately passed to its investigations team.
That team judged the complaint as serious enough to be taken further but Davie said there was no allegation of criminality at the time and more consultation with the individual was required.
He said that “some verification of claims . . . is appropriate”, adding that “due diligence on what is being alleged” was important “because you’d be in a situation where anyone could bring anything in and you’re taking that straight to presenters and having a duty of care and a whole load of issues”.
Davie said he had not personally spoken to the presenter, who was instead talking to a “very senior manager”.
He declined to comment on questions over whether there was any blackmail involved in the case, whether the presenter had offered to resign or what the next steps were likely to be, adding that it was important for the “police to do their work”.
Davie admitted that the situation was “serious in terms of the BBC’s reputation” but said it was “too early to say” how the scandal would affect public trust in the institution.
The crisis surrounding the broadcaster took an unexpected twist on Monday night when Child and Child, a law firm representing the young person, contacted the BBC to say that the allegations made by the parents in The Sun were “rubbish”.
The Sun said 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”.