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Claims about BBC host accused of paying a teen for sexually explicit photos disputed

BBC Broadcasting House on July 10, 2023 in London, England. Last week, the Sun newspaper published allegations that a BBC presenter had paid tens of thousands of pounds to a teenager in exchange for explicit photos.
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BBC Broadcasting House on July 10, 2023 in London, England. Last week, the Sun newspaper published allegations that a BBC presenter had paid tens of thousands of pounds to a teenager in exchange for explicit photos.

Updated July 10, 2023 at 2:45 PM ET

LONDON — A lawyer representing the young person at the center of allegations of sexual misconduct by a top BBC host has disputed the claims made in a British tabloid newspaper.

The male host — whose identity has not been made public — is accused of paying a teenager 35,000 pounds (nearly $45,000) for sexually explicit photos over a three-year period. The exchanges allegedly began when the person was 17.

The Sun newspaper broke the story on Friday with an interview with the alleged victim's mother. She told the paper her teen used the money to fund a drug habit.

"I blame this BBC man for destroying my child's life," the unidentified mother was quoted as saying. "Taking my child's innocence and handing over the money for crack cocaine that could kill my child."

But in astatementissued to the BBC Monday, the lawyer representing the young person claimed there was no truth to the allegations. "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 statement claims that a denial was sent to The Sun on Friday evening via WhatsApp, but the tabloid ignored the message and continued with publication.

In response, 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 behavior 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."

On Sunday, the BBC said it had suspended an unnamed male member of staff. The network says it first became aware of a complaint about him back in May, and had been investigating — before "new allegations" of a "different nature" were made Thursday. At that point, the BBC notified "external authorities," it said.

Police say they held a virtual meeting Monday morning with BBC officials and are "assessing the information discussed at the meeting" — but that no formal investigation is yet underway.

"Further enquiries are taking place to establish whether there is evidence of a criminal offence being committed," police said in a statement carried by local media.

This is only the latest scandal to tarnish the storied British broadcaster, which is funded domestically by TV license fees. Its chairman resigned earlier this year in a conflict of interest row over a financial favor he did for the prime minister who'd appointed him. For decades, the BBC failed to investigate one of its entertainers, Jimmy Savile, who was later found to have committed sex crimes.

U.K. politicians have called for a swift, sensitive and thorough investigation. The country's culture secretary, Lucy Frazer, called the allegations "deeply concerning" and said she had spoken to the BBC's director-general about them.

Since breaking the story last week, The Sun says this unnamed BBC host has made at least two panicked phone calls to his alleged victim, asking "What have you done?" He also reportedly asked them to halt the investigation and to call their mother and urge her to stop talking to media.

Speculation has been rife over who the unnamed BBC presenter is. Other top BBC personalities have flooded social media with statements saying it's not them.

The Sun's former editor, Kelvin MacKenzie, told the BBC's World at One radio program that the newspaper decided to withhold the BBC presenter's name because the U.K. media landscape has "changed dramatically" in recent years, in terms of privacy.

"In the good old days there would have been absolutely no doubt that the name would have been there," MacKenzie said. "And any pictures associated with the story would have been published."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: July 10, 2023 at 12:00 AM EDT
In a previous version of this story, Kelvin MacKenzie's last name was misspelled in one instance as Mackenzi.
Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.
Tara Neill