A crisis at the BBC over the behavior of senior staff deepened on Tuesday with a report that a second person came forward with allegations that the unnamed male staff member had sent angry and abusive messages to the person through a dating app.
The BBC reported that the young man, who it has not identified, felt threatened by “abusive, bombastic messages” that followed unsuccessful efforts by the staff member to meet with this person and the person’s subsequent suggestion of possibly publicly naming him.
The same staff member faced allegations of paying tens of thousands of pounds to a different young man in exchange for sexually explicit photographs. The BBC said it had paused its investigation into those allegations at the request of the Metropolitan Police, which was also investigating the matter.
With the allegations piling up, but with many questions still unanswered, the BBC seemed to be under siege. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, on his way to a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, said the reports about the staff member’s payments were “shocking and disturbing” and called for a swift, vigorous investigation.
The director general of the BBC, Tim Davie, also faced increasing pressure to explain why the corporation waited seven weeks after the initial complaint was made in May about the broadcaster’s conduct before confronting him or taking other action. On Sunday, the BBC said it had suspended staff and called in the police.
Mr Davie said the initial allegations, made by the teenager’s mother who were said to have been paid for explicit photographs, were taken very seriously by the BBC, although there was some question as to whether criminal conduct had taken place.
But the complaints were not relayed to him or other top BBC managers until late last week, he said, when they were about to be reported by London tabloid The Sun. He said he had not yet spoken to the staff member.
The new allegation was reported by the BBC’s own reporters on Tuesday afternoon. They said they reviewed the messages on the person’s phone and verified they came from a phone belonging to the staff member. The BBC said it could not reach the staff member or his lawyer for comment.
Mr. Davie acknowledged that the sordid allegations tarnished the reputation of Britain’s public broadcaster, which has already found itself repeatedly in the political crosshairs for the actions and statements of its on-air personalities.
“These are clearly damaging to the BBC,” Mr Davie said in an interview with BBC Radio 4. “It’s not a good situation.”
The BBC described the suspended staff member as the equivalent of a news anchor, the host of a news show or other on-air personality. Although the BBC did not reveal the person’s identity, this did not stop rampant speculation online, which forced other BBC figures to take to social media to deny they were the target of the allegations.
Among the questions swirling around the BBC is the reliability of The Sun’s report that the staff member paid the teenager more than £35,000, or almost $45,000, for explicit images over a period of several years that began when the person was 17.
Under UK law, the age of consent is 16, but it is a crime to take, make, share or possess indecent images of anyone under 18.
On Monday, the BBC reported that a lawyer for the teenager said in a letter to the broadcaster that the accusations in The Sun was “rubbish”, suggesting that there was a separation between the teenager and the parents of the teenager.
The teenager’s lawyer said “nothing inappropriate or illegal happened between our client and the BBC personality”, according to the broadcaster. Its reporters did not identify the lawyer, and Mr. Davie said Tuesday that he did not know whether the employee was paying the legal fees for the young man.
The Sun, owned by Rupert Murdoch, stood by its story, accusing the BBC of suggesting it was the teenager’s parents’ fault for not realizing how lengthy the complaints process could be.
“Their complaint has not been acted upon by the BBC,” a spokesman for The Sun said on Monday. “We have seen evidence that supports their concerns. It is now appropriate for the BBC to investigate.”