Police called on to probe ITV phone-in "robbery"

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LONDON, Oct 19 (Reuters) Politicians have called for the police to investigate ITV over its premium-rate phone-ins after a report revealed that viewers had spent millions of pounds on competitions they had no chance of winning.

Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price said industry regulator Ofcom should call in the police because ''it is not for ITV to be judge and jury in their own case''.

''I think we need to have a proper investigation because it does seem to me that money was taken under false pretences,'' he told BBC radio.

Ofcom was not immediately available for comment.

ITV said it will refund 7.8 million pounds to viewers after a review by auditors Deloitte found key failures in its handling of premium-rate interactive services.

Callers were left phoning shows even though they had no chance of winning.

Programmes at fault were ''Soapstar Superstar'', ''Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'' and ''Ant and Dec's Gameshow Marathon.'' Work and Pensions Secretary Peter Hain described the behaviour as ''almost daylight robbery'', for which the culprits should be ''nailed''.

Hain told BBC television: ''People were tricked -- and conned I might even say -- into getting rid of millions of pounds on an absolutely false prospectus.

''I think the public who were robbed of their money will want to know that this will never happen again and that those who are responsible, including on the Ant and Dec show, will be nailed.'' ITV Executive Chairman Michael Grade said what had happened was wrong and shocking, and disciplinary conversations were taking place, but that no staff would lose their jobs.

The broadcaster had been advised by lawyers that there was no evidence to support allegations that criminal behaviour had taken place.

The report said that those involved had not been motivated by an attempt to induce greater revenues but to ''cut corners to make better shows and disregard the contract they had made with viewers'', Grade told BBC radio.

''There is no evidence to suggest that any producer sat down and said 'hey we can really increase the phone revenues if we do this,''' he said.

Grade, who took over the job nine months ago, said he would have resigned if he had been in charge at the time of the problems.

He said the information had not been dragged out of ITV and that it had been the broadcaster which called in Deloitte and took immediate action.

Ant and Dec, who hold the title executive producers, have issued a statement denying any knowledge of the phone-in operation.

Scotland Yard said it would consider investigating ITV if it were asked by Ofcom, but it had not received a request so far.

REUTERS ARB PM1455

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