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BBC insiders fear presenter scandal could be used as ‘excuse’ to cut the license fee

‘If the Government uses the scandal as an excuse to cut the licence fee increase that will mean more services people value cut,’ a BBC insider said

In a dramatic twist to the story of a BBC presenter said to have paid for sexually explicit photos from a teenager, the youngster at the centre of the controversy said nothing inappropriate or unlawful happened.

Claims made by the mother at the heart of the BBC presenter scandal are “rubbish”, a lawyer representing the young person said, casting doubt on the story first reported by The Sun.

An unnamed member of BBC staff has been suspended following claims that he paid a young person around £35,000 over three years, from the age of 17, for explicit images.

In a letter reported by the BBC, the young person’s lawyer said: “For the avoidance of doubt, nothing inappropriate or unlawful has taken place between our client and the BBC personality and the allegations reported in The Sun newspaper are ‘rubbish’.”

The letter said the young person sent a denial to The Sun on Friday evening saying there was “no truth to it”.

However, the “inappropriate article” was still published, the lawyer said.

A spokesperson for The Sun said: “We have reported a story about two very concerned parents who made a complaint to the BBC about the behaviour of a presenter and the welfare of their child. Their complaint was not acted upon by the BBC.”

“We have seen evidence that supports their concerns. It’s now for the BBC to properly investigate.”

The Sun reported on Monday that the presenter had made “panicked” calls to the person last week after the allegations became known.

The Rupert Murdoch-owned paper will now be under pressure to provide evidence to back up its original story.

The Metropolitan Police are “assessing” information from the BBC over the allegations made against the presenter. The Met said it had not yet launched an investigation into the allegations.

BBC journalists had previously called on the presenter to allow himself to be named to prevent colleagues from facing baseless smears.

Staffers said the corporation was bracing itself for the possible publication of the household name at the centre of the scandal.

BBC stars including Nicky Campbell and Gary Lineker publicly ruled themselves out as the figure in question after false speculation on social media.

Insiders said the identity of the person was now widely known within and outside the BBC.

The story has led the BBC News bulletins and website for several days with staff preparing additional background reporting in the event that the individual is named.

One insider said: “The news team want the green light from bosses to name the person. We’re a news organisation and this is a story we ought to be leading from the front on. People have been prepared for the naming scenario.”

BBC executives have cited an individual’s right to privacy when they may be under investigation, established in a landmark Supreme Court ruling last year.

The presenter is understood to have taken advice from lawyers and had not so far allowed his name to be made public by the BBC.

The insider said: “Some executives would like him to end the stalemate to help colleagues who have suffered from being falsely identified with the story.”

There have even been suggestions of an “uprising” among staff behind and in front of the camera over the “farce” of not being able to identify the figure, Mailonline reported.

Kept in the dark for weeks themselves, BBC staffers were horrified at the claims being made about a figure known to millions.

Some had suggested the damage could be equivalent to the Jimmy Savile affair, which caused a crisis in public trust that ultimately led to the resignation of director-general George Entwistle.

“Everyone is shocked and we don’t even know the full story yet,” said one staffer. “There’s also anger that the presenter remained on screen for weeks after the BBC was approached. Why didn’t the bosses take immediate action?”

BBC bosses fear ministers could use the latest crisis as cover to cancel a planned licence fee rise linked to soaring inflation.

The £159 mandatory charge is expected to increase by 8.2 per cent next spring in line with the annualised Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rate, to £173.

A final decision will be made in the autumn, with ministers understood to believe there is political capital in curbing the increase during a cost of living crisis.

A BBC insider said: “If the Government uses the scandal as an excuse to cut the licence fee increase that will mean more services people value cut. People can already see the effect of the licence fee freeze on news and local radio.”

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is currently examining the future of the licence fee itself.

Alternative funding mechanisms are being sought which could replace the current charge at the end of the current royal charter in 2028. Options include a broadband tax or a monthly charge linked to council tax.

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk suggested the BBC itself could face an investigation over why the presenter was only taken off air last week, six weeks after the mother of the youngster contacted the broadcaster.

The presenter was suspended on Sunday afternoon after the BBC received what it called “new allegations, of a different nature”.

The Sun claimed that the presenter started paying for photos when the teenager was 17 years old.

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