ITV has been accused of "daylight robbery" by a government minister after a report shed light on problems in the broadcaster's premium-rate phone-ins.

The Deloitte audit uncovered "serious editorial issues" with phone-in competitions including instances where phonelines were left open despite winners having already been selected.

But despite admissions from Scotland Yard that it could launch its own investigation into the scandal, ITV chairman Sir Michael Grade insists that no criminal activity took place.

Nevertheless, work and pensions secretary Peter Hain said: "What happened at ITV is frankly almost daylight robbery that people were tricked and conned, I might even say, into getting rid of millions of pounds on an absolutely false prospectus.

"If the question is should sackings occur, then it is very difficult for me as a member of the government to say what should or shouldn't happen within an independent company. I do not think I should say that," he commented on BBC1's Question Time last night.

Shadow home secretary David Davis meanwhile questioned whether Ofcom should have acted sooner.

"I can't judge whether it was a crime or not, but somebody made a dishonest decision," he said on the same programme.

"That is the clear point here. It must be possible for ITV to know who it was and who made this dishonest decision and they should pay with their job.

"I was thinking about Ofcom, the regulator, about whether it needs more powers or whether we need to be worried about whether it uses the powers that it had properly.

"This is actually within the powers of Ofcom to do something about it. Why did they not act earlier?"

ITV programmes criticised in yesterday's report include Soapstar Superstar 2007, Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway 2005 and 2006 and Ant and Dec's Gameshow Marathon 2005, and technical problems with interactive voting on The X-Factor, among others.

Sir Michael cancelled all premium rate phone-ins, interactive votes and competitions in March while Deloitte carried out its investigation.

Though phone voting eventually returned to most programmes, quiz channel ITV Play has been abandoned after call volumes declined dramatically.

19/10/2007 13:08:12