Ant Mcpartlin and Declan Donnelly are to return a television comedy award after it emerged that the vote had been rigged in their favour.

The pair had won the People's Choice award at the 2005 British Comedy awards for their show Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, receiving the trophy from their friend Robbie Williams.

But on the day ITV was handed a £5.67 million fine by communications watchdog Ofcom for a series of mistakes concerning phone-in competitions, it has emerged that BBC comedy The Catherine Tate Show was in fact the correct winner of the viewer phone vote.

However, an investigation by media law firm Olswang has revealed that Williams had been hired to present the award on the promise that Ant and Dec would be the victors.

"Robbie Williams was invited to present an award. It was understood that he would be happy to present an award if the recipients were Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly," their report reads.

"In order to ensure his attendance, this assurance was given, albeit at a time when the winners of all the jury awards had been decided and Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly had not been selected.

"As such it was an assurance that could not legitimately have been guaranteed, as the only award still to be decided was the People's Choice award, the winner of which was then unknown and dependent upon the public vote."

And while there is "no suggestion that Robbie Williams, Anthony McPartlin or Declan Donnelly were aware of any of these issues", the Olswang report revealed that that viewers of the ITV award ceremony were asked to continue voting for the People's Choice award even though Ant and Dec had already been filmed accepting the prize, following a broadcast delay enforced by the nightly news.

A spokesman for Ant and Dec was quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying the revelations were "as much a surprise to them as to everybody" and added that they would be returning the award.

09/05/2008 10:22:40