Serious Fraud Office reviews evidence in ITV phone-in scandal

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The Independent Online

GMTV and ITV are facing the prospect of criminal investigations into a string of television phone-in scandals, after ITV chairman Michael Grade said he would have resigned if he had been chief executive when the broadcaster deceived viewers.

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) said it was reviewing documents from Ofcom regarding GMTV to decide whether a criminal investigation should be launched.

The television company was fined £2m by the media watchdog last month for charging viewers to enter competitions they had no chance of winning.

A spokeswoman said that the SFO may also look into the latest ITV premium rate phone-in scandal following a report by city firm Deloitte, which found that £7.8m had been taken from viewers under false pretenses.

Pressure mounted on ITV chiefs to take responsibility for the deception, with the Work and Pensions Secretary Peter Hain calling on those responsible to be "nailed". Police could decide to investigate once Ofcom, which has the power to fine ITV up to £70m, has published its report into the scandal.

Competitions were rigged on three ITV shows, Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, Gameshow Marathon and Soapstar Superstar, Deloitte found. But so far, nobody from ITV has been sacked over the fakery.

Speaking on BBC1's Question Time, Mr Hain described the deception as "almost daylight robbery" and added: "People were tricked and conned into getting rid of millions of pounds on an absolutely false prospectus. I think the public will want to know that this will never happen again, and that those who were responsible, including those on the Ant and Dec show, will be nailed."

Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price, a member of the House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, called for a police investigation into the ITV competitions. He said: "Here we have a public service broadcaster it would appear regularly, routinely, deliberately deceiving the public and defrauding them of millions of pounds over an extended period of time. I think we need to have a proper investigation because it does seem to me that money was taken under false pretenses and in most people's minds it sounds like fraud."

Asked in an interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme why no senior executives had been fired over the findings of the Deloitte report, Mr Grade said: "With the findings and the prospect of a regulatory fine or fines, I would have to say if I was chief executive of ITV presiding over this I certainly would have considered my position."

Charles Allen was chief executive of ITV for most of the period concerned, although he had left the company when the deceptions came to light in March.

Scotland Yard said it could consider investigating ITV. A spokesman said: "We await the outcome of the regulatory authority report before making any decision regarding the police investigation.

"If there was anything in the report that appeared to be criminal, Scotland Yard, the Serious Fraud Office or the City of London Police would investigate."

The Conservative culture spokesman Jeremy Hunt has written to the Culture Secretary James Purnell expressing concern over whether the current regulatory system is working and demanding to know what action he will take.

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