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BBC boss Tim Davie’s position could be under threat over handling of suspended star, insider says

The Director-General needs to give a clear account of the BBC’s actions over presenter said to have paid for explicit images, insiders say

BBC boss Tim Davie’s job could be under threat if he fails to explain why the presenter at the centre of sex photo allegations was allowed to stay on air, insiders have said.

The Director-General is due to face media scrutiny on Tuesday after presenting the BBC’s annual report, which details how much the broadcaster’s top talent and executives are paid.

The crisis surrounding the unnamed presenter, alleged to have made payments of £35,000 to a teenager in exchange for sexually-explicit images, will now dominate the event.

Insiders believe Mr Davie should have got a grip of the scandal much earlier – the teenager’s mother made an initial complaint to the BBC on 19 May, but the presenter, now suspended, remained on air.

The Metropolitan Police Service said it was “assessing information” after meeting with BBC broadcast bosses.

The force said there was “no investigation” into the matter at present but further inquiries were under way to establish whether there was evidence of a criminal offence.

One BBC insider said: “We are told that Tim only became aware of the allegations last Thursday. That seems astonishing. There is something seriously faulty with the BBC’s procedures if a complaint of that nature isn’t escalated to the very top.”

Mr Davie’s leadership of the BBC has been marked by crises. He suspended Gary Lineker over a tweet about immigration policy but was forced to back down when the presenter’s colleagues pulled out of Match of the Day in sympathy.

He appointed a KC to investigate how much the BBC knew about sexual misconduct allegations against former radio DJ Tim Westwood, after initially saying the BBC had “no evidence” of any complaints – Westwood strongly denies any wrongdoing.

The insider said Mr Davie’s approach to crisis management appeared to be to “hope the problem dies down and goes away but it usually just gets worse.”

On the presenter case, “Tim needs to give a clear and transparent account to licence-fee payers of what happened when and what is happening now, to shore up his position. He needs to put himself up for interview by BBC News outlets. BBC staff and politicians will be watching closely.”

However, the dramatic intervention from the youngster on Monday evening, saying nothing inappropriate or unlawful happened with the unnamed presenter, suggests Mr Davie’s handling of the affair may prove justified.

Describing the claims as a “complex and fast moving set of circumstances”, Mr Davie had said the BBC was “working as quickly as possible to establish the facts” but it was “important that these matters are handled fairly and with care.”
Aware that the presenter had a legal right to privacy, the director-general resisted pressure to name the figure, who was a household name.

Senior political figures including Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer and Dame Caroline Dinenage, chair of the Commons media select committee, contacted Mr Davie amid concerns that the BBC had failed to take swift action over the presenter.

Dame Caroline told i: “I spoke to Tim Davie and received assurances that the BBC are treating this matter seriously, sensitively and with urgency.”

She added: “I’m aware of the duty of care to both alleged victim and perpetrator in this case, so intend to wait until we have more info before commenting further.”

Mr Davie will be accompanied at the report launch by Dame Elan Closs Stephens, the new acting chair of the BBC following Richard Sharp’s resignation, who finds herself leading the board through a process that could prove hugely damaging for the BBC’s reputation.

In a memo to staff, Mr Davie said the BBC’s investigations team had been looking into the complaint and following it up since it was made in May. He said: “New allegations, of a different nature, were put to us on Thursday.” He added that the BBC was in contact with the family.

No one at the BBC has more experience of managing controversies than Mr Davie, a former Pepsi executive who rose swiftly through the corporation’s ranks after joining in 2005.

As head of radio, he led the inquiry into the Sachsgate affair, over offensive messages left on actor Andrew Sachs’s voicemail, which led to Russell Brand’s resignation from Radio 2.

Appointed acting director-general, he guided the BBC through the fallout from the Jimmy Savile scandal.

Speaking at a Culture, Media and Sport Committee hearing last month in the wake of the Phillip Schofield affair, he was asked about the influence individuals in the TV industry can hold over others by virtue of their prominence.

He told MPs that “imbalances of power are dangerous and we care about them. Culturally I am very direct about that not being something I want to see at this organisation.” The hearing was held several weeks after the mother of the teenager at the centre of the presenter affair contacted the BBC.

The BBC declined to comment on Mr Davie’s handling of the issue.

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