ITV chiefs have been lambasted by alcohol campaigners after claims emerged that the broadcaster paid the bill for a group of students being filmed binge drinking.
ITV is believed to have paid the tab for a drinking session filmed for a Tonight investigation entitled Britain's Young Drinkers, where a production team followed four young students on a night out to examine the effects alcohol would have on their bodies.
The show was broadcast in April and was watched by 2.8 million people.
ITV has since launched an internal investigation into the incident after it was reported that the students’ drinks were paid for by ITV Studios’ factual arm Shiver and a parent of one of the group made a complaint.
An unnamed source told The Sun: “Tonight gave four students an unlimited bar tab and told them they could drink as much as they liked.”
Volunteer Jake Hirst, 19, was said to have drunk 11 beers, eight shots, three whiskies, seven vodkas and three tequilas during the night out in Liverpool – the equivalent of 48 units, the Sun has reported.
Sam Alexander, also 19, drank eight beers, ten shots, two whiskies, six vodkas and two Sambucas, totalling 40 units of alcohol.
During the programme, Sam is told by a doctor that his body “wasn’t able to cope with the amount of blood alcohol that you had to the point where it’s excreting protein” and that he would need to abstain from alcohol for a week in order for his liver to heal.
Alcohol concern Chief Executive Eric Appleby said the investigation could have been "fatal".
Alcohol charity Mentor's Paul Tuohy also criticised the network, and said: "How can a programme produce a factual and balanced view when they're dangling an endless amount of alcohol as a temptation to these young people?
The show, presented by Jonathan Maitland, included interviews with a parent of a young man who had died following a drinking game and a survey showing how many young people drank alcohol for the sole purpose of getting drunk.
A spokeswoman for the channel said: "Following a complaint from a family member of one of the participants in the Tonight programme, ITV immediately carried out an investigation into whether its strict internal procedures had been followed. The series producer has left the programme."