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BBC crossed the line over child actor in violent drama, says TV watchdog

Lennie James, left, Martin Compston and Vicky McClure in Line of Fire. Picture: BBC

Lennie James, left, Martin Compston and Vicky McClure in Line of Fire. Picture: BBC

  • by SHERNA NOAH
 

THE BBC breached the broadcasting code when it filmed a child actor in scenes in a police drama “of a particularly violent nature” and featuring sexually explicit language, TV watchdog Ofcom has ruled.

Line Of Duty, on BBC2, featured Gregory Piper, a 13-year-old in his first acting role, playing Ryan Pilkington, a child runner for a highly violent criminal gang.

The drama starred Scots actor Martin Compston as police anti-corruption officer DS Steve Arnott investigating a top detective, played by Lennie James.

In one episode in July, Gregory’s character was seen attempting to sever Arnott’s fingers using bolt cutters.

In another episode, he is inter­viewed under caution at a police station by a detective constable who warns him he faced going to an institution where older teenagers would force him to perform sex acts on them.

Regulator Ofcom found the drama in breach of a rule in the code which states that “due care must be taken over the physical and emotional welfare and the dignity of people under 18 who take part or are otherwise involved in programmes”.

It said the child actor “was filmed participating in scenes which were of a particularly violent nature and included sexually explicit language”.

Ofcom said it was “particularly concerned” that an independent expert, such as a child counsellor or psychologist, was not involved, as “the violent nature of the bolt-cutter scene and the sexually explicit language used by DC [Kate] Fleming were such extreme cases”.

It said that it was “alarmed” that the BBC did not consider ongoing formal risk assessment on the emotional impact of the child’s involvement.

Ofcom said: “Given the highly adult violent nature and sexually explicit language used in the episodes, and the child actor’s direct involvement with this material in each case, we considered that the steps taken by the BBC were insufficient to ensure that due care was taken of the emotional welfare of the child actor, irrespective of the consent given by the child actor’s parents.”

The BBC said that Gregor Piper was present throughout the filming of the interview scene and that it “would have been preferable for the contributions from [him] and the character DC Fleming [played Vicky McClure]by to have been filmed separately to avoid his exposure to the language that was used”.

The 13-year-old landed the job six weeks after he started drama school following an audition and several conversations with him and his parents, who had seen the script.

The BBC said programme-makers had been “in constant dialogue” with the parents “before, during and after filming every day” and that “neither episode resulted in any apparent harm, distress or anxiety to the child actor”.

It submitted a letter written by Gregor’s mother highlighting her son’s positive experience in his first role.

Ofcom also announced it was calling in several broadcasters to discuss the requirements in the code about featuring under-18s in programmes.

It warned that it would carry out spot-checks to ensure that broadcasters were complying with the code.

It comes after the Line Of Duty ruling and as Ofcom launched an investigation into the ITV1 show I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here! for featuring Charlie Brooks’s young daughter in a stunt.

Earlier this month, Ofcom launched a probe into a CBBC show presented by Dick and Dom after a young contestant was left retching after an eating challenge.

 

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