Manchester radio station Key 103 fell foul of the regulator recently after complaints about their ‘Heartless Hotline’ competition.
The breakfast show competition involved a member of the public making a case as to why they should receive a particular prize that they have chosen. The station telephone lines were then opened for 30 seconds, and any listener who wished could phone in and steal the prize for themselves. If no listener calls in, the person who requested the prize and gave their reason- gets it.
Ofcom received a complaint from a listener who described the treatment of the competition entrant on 27 April as “disgusting”. Separately we received two complaints about the 29 April competition from listeners who considered the competition had not been conducted fairly.
The competition went as follows:
The Heartless Hotline competition was introduced by the breakfast show presenters, Mike Toolan (“MT”) and Brooke Vincent (“BV”).
MT: Today’s person facing the Heartless Hotline is Sarah from Eccles. Sarah?
BV: Hi. You alright?
Sarah: I’m alright. A bit nervous.
MT: You’ve contacted us to try and win your dream prize. Tell everybody what it is.
Sarah: It’s £2,000 to cover divorce costs including a court order
MT: …Tell us the story. You were married – when did it all go wrong?
Sarah: It was just over two years ago and I discovered my husband was cheating on me with somebody he worked with. A couple of weeks after that literally, my dad died unexpectedly. It has been an awful – I can’t tell you what it’s been like the last two years [voice breaks]…sorry I’m a bit upset.
BV: Oh, don’t be upset.
Sarah: [voice wavering] I don’t have any luxuries. I have enough to cover the bills but really if I could get divorced I could also get a court order that would mean that my children’s father would have to help with the housing costs ‘cos I just don’t think, of moving house right now, they could cope with it. It’s just been heart-breaking.
MT: So your ex-husband, well I guess he’s still your husband at the minute until you can get divorced. He’s not helping you pay the bills? Sarah: He’s given me a little bit of basic maintenance but it’s not enough to be able to keep us in the house where we live.
BV: Is that for the kids as well? It’s for everything?
Sarah: Yeah. [voice wavering] You know, for me to lose my support network and for them to lose their friends and possibly have to move schools. I just don’t think they could cope with it.
MT: So you want a sort of court order that will allow you stay in the house
you are in.
Sarah: Yeah, you can obtain a court order which means that he would have to help with housing costs – he would have to contribute a little bit more in order to keep a roof over our heads.
MT: He should be doing it anyway.
BV: He’s in our ‘Bad Dads’ Club’.
MT: […] So you’re paying all the bills. You want to stay in the family home.
You need £2,000.
Sarah: I do work, I work in healthcare. I help look after children and adults with additional needs. It’s not that I don’t work but I just need a little bit more help in order to cover the mortgage…and that would do it really. I have been to see a couple of solicitors so I know what’s involved and I know the exact cost and that [the £2,000 prize] would cover the
paperwork for the divorce and the solicitor’s fees.
MT: So you need £2,000?
MT: We’ve got it for you.
Sarah: Right [nervous laughter].
MT: I’ve been through a divorce myself, I know exactly what you’re going through and it’s just horrible.
Sarah: It’s awful.
MT: Okay. 30 seconds. We’re going to open up the Heartless Hotline on Key 103. Really good luck Sarah in Eccles. Let’s hope no one calls. Let’s hope people allow you to take this £2,000.
Sarah: Please Manchester. I need this more than anything.
MT: How old are your children?
Sarah: Nine and seven now.
MT: Nine and seven. Aww. Are they okay?
Sarah: They’re okay. They’ve took it hard but they’re okay.
MT: Okay. 30 seconds. [Telephone number given]. It’s up to you if you want to call and steal this cash. It’s on your conscience. The Key 103 Heartless Hotline is now open.
[A ticking clock was heard, followed two seconds later by the sound of a phone
MT: We’ve got a call in already.
Sarah: Oh no.
MT: Hello? Key 103’s Heartless Hotline. Who’s this?
Caller: Hiya. It’s Leigh.
MT: Leigh? Why are you calling us?
Leigh: I want to steal the money.
BV: [gasp] Do you Leigh?
Sarah: Oh no.
BV: What you want to steal it for, what do you want?
Leigh: Well I would like a holiday.
BV: But Leigh!
Sarah: This is my children’s future!
Leigh: I know but I’ve got children of my own and I could do with a holiday for us.
Sarah: You could do with a holiday? I could do with keeping a roof over my children’s heads. How could you?
Sarah: [Sounding close to tears] I want to keep a roof over my children’s heads and you just want a holiday? Are you serious?
Leigh: I am serious. I’m sorry about this, but yes.
Sarah: You’re not sorry. How could you?
Leigh: Well that’s the name of the game!
BV: I don’t know what to say.
MT: […] Leigh, do you not think this is a bit out of order? Do you not think she’s been through enough and she deserves a chance to fight for the right to keep her kids in the same house?
Leigh: Well…yes, we’ve all got a story to tell and I just need the money myself so I just thought I would ring up.
Leigh: Sorry, I didn’t know her situation.
Sarah: Just for a holiday.
Leigh: I just want a holiday. Long overdue.
MT: Alright. Leigh, you’ve won your holiday.
Leigh: Oh thank you! [laughing].
MT: Okay. Bye.
Leigh: Thanks a lot. Bye bye!
MT: Sarah. I don’t know what to say.
Sarah: Okay well, she won it fair enough I suppose.
MT: Stay on the line, we’ll have a chat in a minute.
After a music track was played the presenters discussed what had happened and
read out messages from listeners. These included:
MT: Sarah Elliot has texted… ‘Words fail me. What a cow!’
BV: I’ve got some on Twitter…we’ve got Jamie who’s put “nearly in tears at Key 103 Heartless Hotline”. I’ve got Tracy Elliot who’s put “what a vindictive, disgusting woman. Sickening”. Nicholas put “to be fair with this Heartless Hotline, you can’t blame people who are stealing. It’s the name of the game” and that’s true but – it’s just hard as these are people’s lives that we are trying to also help but other people are stealing from, so it’s not good.
MT: Someone’s put “you need to stop this evil game now. I’m at the point where I’m going to be switching stations”.
BV: I think the thing is, it also depends what the person is asking for because someone could ask for a car and it’d not be that bad. It’s just like, you know, they’ve stole a car, but when it’s that raw and personal, as a divorce, and someone comes on and tells a story, and someone just goes “yeah”. That’s a bit harsh.
The presenters also spoke to a number of callers over the course of the subsequent 30 minutes. The majority expressed their anger with Leigh for stealing the money, although some defended her actions. By way of example, callers’ comments included:
“I am absolutely disgusted with that woman from Wythenshawe that’s just stolen
that prize…words fail me”.
“That was bang out of order…”.
“…we’ve all been through issues and we don’t know what’s gone on in this girl’s
[Leigh’s] life to make her want a holiday. She could have been through anything
and there’s nothing like a holiday to make you feel better and I think we’re all
judging here without knowing what she’s been through…”.
One listener also offered to donate £100 towards Sarah’s cause which one of the
presenters agreed to match.
Ofcom found that Key 103 were in breach of their Rules 2.3 and 2.13 and said “In our opinion, the Licensee should have been more aware before transmission of the potential for offence arising from including Sarah as a contestant in this competition on 27 April 2016”.