Grade under pressure to wield axe at ITV

TV presenters Ant & Dec apologised yesterday for their unwitting part in the phone-in scandal, but demands for heads continue
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The Independent Online

Television presenters Ant and Dec yesterday apologised to viewers and fans after the TV show they host was named and shamed in the ITV phone-in scandal. The stars of Saturday Night Takeaway said they were giving the competition profits from their next series to charity as a "gesture of goodwill". An investigation by Deloitte revealed their show misled viewers into spending £6.5m on worthless calls for competitions they could not win.

The celebrities moved quickly to distance themselves from the scandal, insisting they were "deeply upset" by the investigation findings, and that they had received no financial benefit. "We are not involved in running the phone lines, the logistics of the competitions or selecting winners." They said the way viewers and fans had been treated "simply isn't acceptable and we are truly sorry". They said that, following discussions with ITV chairman Michael Grade, it was decided to give any profits from competition entries on the next programme series to charity.

Pressure is mounting on ITV chiefs to take greater responsibility for the deceptions, which also included rigged competitions on such programmes as The X Factor, Soapstar Superstar and Gameshow Marathon. Mr Grade is refusing to sack anybody involved, but several people are facing disciplinary proceedings at ITV. These are understood to include senior executives on Saturday Night Takeaway who disregarded millions of calls from viewers on the grounds of where they lived, miscounts and a failure to process calls.

Simon Shaps, currently ITV's director of television, but the head of production when many of the incidents took place, is understood to have Mr Grade's backing. The role of Jeff Henry, head of ITV's consumer division, and the person in charge of competitions, will also be questioned. Mr Henry conceived ITV's phone-in quiz shows which were criticised earlier this year.

MPs have added to the pressure on Mr Grade. Peter Hain, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, described the incidents as "almost daylight robbery". However, ITV took specialist legal advice in relation to points raised by the Deloitte investigation and was told there was no evidence to support criminal allegations.

The broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, which could impose a maximum £70m fine on ITV, has requested a copy of the report carried out by auditors Deloitte. Ofcom is already investigating earlier allegations of phone-in irregularities. The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has asked to see a copy of the report, which is expected to take several months, when it is finished.

Detectives have said they face huge difficulties establishing a chain of evidence sufficient to bring a successful prosecution. "It will be necessary to establish exactly which callers telephoned after deadlines shut and lost their money as a result."

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