The BBC appeared to have dealt a knockout blow to Elite, the world's top model agency, with Donal MacIntyre's expose of exploitation of young girls in an industry long-known for its seedier side.
Two of Elite's senior executives, Gerald Marie and Xavier Moreau, resigned amid public outrage after one was caught on camera allegedly soliciting sex from a young model, and another making a racist remark. The agency confirmed yesterday that they had been reinstated but had "declined to take up their posts" until they were cleared. Elite also attacked the BBC's reputation, claiming the report was "rigged" and the programme was biased and unfair.
Mr MacIntyre, the reporter behind the programme MacIntyre Undercover, has yet to join the recriminations. But the BBC was forced to step into the fray and counter accusations that its programme was less than rigorously produced.
In fact, everyone involved is sinking into the mire, including a coterie of models who have defended the apparently indefensible and called for Mr Moreau and Mr Marie to be cleared of any wrongdoing.
In a fit of pique and taking full advantage of the growing confusion surrounding the scandal, both men yesterday said they would not return to work until they had cleared their names.
Mr Marie, the president of Elite Europe and ex-husband of super model Linda Evangelista, was filmed boasting about how he hoped to seduce contestants in the Elite Model Look contest where the average age is just 15.
He was also captured offering an undercover BBC reporter pounds 300 to have sex with him, which he has since dismissed as a "drunken joke".
Mr Marie also attacked claims in the programme by model Rebecca Howard, a finalist in the 1994 "Elite Look of the Year" final, that she was destroyed by drugs supplied by the fashion industry.
Mr Moreau, a close friend of black catwalk model Naomi Campbell and head of Elite Model Look, was broadcast remarking to friends over dinner: "Africa would be OK if they were all white," and later, "I don't like black girls."
Yesterday, Mr Marie admitted that some of his comments were not acceptable but roundly attacked the BBC for its reporting methods. "There was rigging in the editing, of course, there are phrases which are not justified for the images," he said, adding that "The language that one uses in bars is unacceptable, even if one was framed, even if it needed three months to gather several expressions. It's inexcusable."
A spokesman for Mr Marie said: "Of his own free will, he will stay in voluntary retirement so that the full light can be shed on this affair and on the manipulation of the (television) cassettes," and added that Mr Moreau's stance was the same.
Elite last night said "nothing had changed" since earlier this week when it issued a statement saying comments made on film were "embarrassing" but claimed the programme was "biased and flawed."
The company's chairman, John Casablancas, also attacked the integrity of the methods used saying "serious questions" had been raised.
But a BBC spokesman insisted that the programme had adhered to strict broadcasting guidelines over the use of secret filming. "It is only done where there is a strong public interest and in this case there clearly was," he said.
"All the secret filming had to be cleared by the programme's own controller of editorial policy following what are very strict guidelines," he said. "We stand completely by the programme and in our view what it shows really speaks for itself."
Mr MacIntyre, who posed as a fashion photographer to make the programme, could not be contacted yesterday. But in a book about the series he discusses broadcasting integrity and points out that he was monitored throughout by academics from London's City University to ensure it was maintained.
The Things They Said
Gerald Marie to undercover reporter Lisa Brinkworth: "I'll give you one million lire if you sleep with me." When she replied she didn't know him he said: "You don't have to know me. You are frigid, frigid."
Mr Marie defending himself later: "But what am I actually guilty of ? A few unfortunate words that were taken from a private conversation. I like women, real women, not little girls."
Xavier Moreau during a secretly-filmed dinner with friends: "Africa would be OK if they were all white. I don't like black girls."
Elite chairman John Casablancas when the scandal broke: "Shocking, unacceptable and totally incorrect." He also issued an "unconditional apology".
Mr Casablancas after the decision to re-instate Mr Marie and Mr Moreau: "This reversal was the result of the very serious questions raised regarding the integrity of the BBC's report and the doubts that have been raised in relation to Mr MacIntyre's investigative and editing measures."
Undercover reporter Donal MacIntyre on drugs in the fashion industry: "It is normal to talk about drugs in fashion. Everyone is either coming down or getting high."