The BBC’s director-general has ordered a review to “assess how some complaints are red flagged up the organisation” following allegations a high-profile presenter paid a teenager for explicit images.
The corporation has said it made two attempts over several weeks to contact the family who claimed the unnamed presenter paid their child around £35,000 over three years, from the age of 17, for explicit images.
Director-general Tim Davie was first informed of the allegations seven weeks after the family first complained about the presenter to the BBC, when The Sun said it would be publishing its front page story.
Mr Davie told reporters this was because there was no response to the attempts to make contact and investigators could not verify the claims.
The corporation has also been asked to pause its internal investigation into the allegations “while the police scope future work” following a meeting with the Metropolitan Police.
A statement from the broadcaster said: “As a result of this meeting, the BBC has been asked to pause its investigations into the allegations while the police scope future work.”
It added: “The BBC has processes and protocols for receiving information and managing complaints when they are first made. We always take these matters extremely seriously and seek to manage them with the appropriate duty of care.
“The events of recent days have shown how complex and challenging these kinds of cases can be and how vital it is that they are handled with the utmost diligence and care.
“There will, of course, be lessons to be learned following this exercise.”
Mr Davie said he has asked Leigh Tavaziva, the BBC Group chief operating officer, to assess whether its protocols and procedures are appropriate in light of the case.
Speaking at a press conference about the BBC’s annual report, Mr Davie said: “Of course there will be lessons to be learned, and how processes could be improved.
“Immediately I have asked that we assess how some complaints are red flagged up the organisation.
“We will take time to properly review the current protocols and procedures to ensure they remain sufficient based on anything we learn from this case.”
The BBC has released a timeline of events, saying a family member of the young person first complained on May 18, when they went to a BBC building.
The following day the same family member contacted BBC Audience Services and the details of the claims were referred to the BBC’s Corporate Investigations Team, who assessed that the claims did not include an allegation of criminality, but nonetheless merited further investigation.
Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme with broadcaster Sarah Montague, Mr Davie said of the initial complaint: “The facts are there that very simply the Corporate Investigations Team looked at the log – that is the summary of the call – we have clear records of an interaction that lasted 29 minutes.”
The BBC said two subsequent attempts to contact the complainant via phone and email were unsuccessful and while the Corporate Investigations Team were due to return to the matter in the coming weeks, no additional attempts to contact the complainant were made after June 6.
The case remained open throughout, the BBC said.
The Sun first contacted the BBC on July 6 about the allegations they were due to publish, which was the first time Mr Davie or any executive directors at the BBC were aware of the case.
Mr Davie told the World At One that he did not speak to the accused presenter on July 6, but instead the conversation was conducted by a “senior manager”, which the director-general said was the “right role” for him in being able to oversee the process.
The claims made by The Sun contained new allegations, that were different from the matters being considered by BBC Corporate Investigations, the corporation said.
This was the first time the presenter concerned was spoken to about the matter, according to the BBC. The investigations team also contacted the complainant again.
Explaining why no contact was made with the complainant for more than a month, Mr Davie said “thousands” of complaints are made and it is “appropriate” there is a verification process.
He said: “Some verification of that claim is appropriate once the Corporate Investigations team has taken something on, they do some due diligence on what is being alleged.
“Because if we work this through, you’d be in a situation where anyone can ring anything in and you’re taking that straight to presenters or whatever and having that duty of care issue there and a whole load of issues.”
He added: “Even in the circumstances where we didn’t have the level of verification we wanted or needed, I do think it is a fair question to review the red flagging process.”
Mr Davie later added on BBC Radio 4: “I have given a bit of context in terms of the numbers of issues we get coming into our Corporate Investigations unit, over six months that will be about 250, and you take those and they are the serious complaints coming through all different types.”
When asked if the presenter offered to resign, Mr Davie said: “I wouldn’t comment on a private conversation, I think that is in terms of privacy for an individual, I don’t think that’s right.”
Discussing what support the BBC is offering for the presenter and if he is concerned about the impact if they are cleared of any wrongdoing, he added: “Duty of care is a very significant factor in this.
“If you look at the enormity of the coverage and everything that is going on, I am very sensitive to it.
“I think duty of care in these types of affairs is critical and also that goes beyond those people at the centre of the drama.
“I can’t give you specific details of individuals and duty of care packages, what I can say is the BBC I think is excellent at making sure we are offering the right support, we have really good professional teams that do that and it’s one of the highest priorities as we move through this affair.”
The young person at the centre of the controversy has said nothing inappropriate or unlawful happened with the unnamed presenter, although their mother reportedly stands by the claims.
In a letter reported by BBC News At Six, the young person said via a lawyer: “For the avoidance of doubt, nothing inappropriate or unlawful has taken place between our client and the BBC personality and the allegations reported in The Sun newspaper are ‘rubbish’.”
The legal representative also said the young person told The Sun on Friday evening before the newspaper published the story that there was “no truth to it”, the BBC reported.
The lawyer reportedly called the article on the front page “inappropriate”, claiming in the letter that the mother and the young person are estranged.
BBC News said it does not know the identity of the young person and has not spoken to them directly, but that the letter was sent by a multinational law firm.
A spokesman for The Sun said: “We have 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 mother and stepfather of the young person stood by their allegation, and questioned how their child could afford the lawyer, The Sun reported.
Mr Davie was asked about the family’s suggestion that the young person’s legal fees were paid for by the presenter in question during his interview on World At One.
He said: “That is not information I am party too. That is not something for the BBC, bluntly.
“I think there is absolutely a proper duty of care for everyone involved, but when it comes to those matters, they may be appropriate lines of inquiry for the newsroom, but for the BBC corporately we need to make sure we are taking the evidence we have got and presenting that to the police and taking that forward.”