Northern Ireland

BBC presenter Stephen Nolan sent unsolicited 'sexually explicit' images of disgraced reality TV star Stephen Bear to work colleagues

BBC presenter Stephen Nolan (right) sent a sexually explicit photograph of Stephen Bear to work colleagues
BBC presenter Stephen Nolan (right) sent a sexually explicit photograph of Stephen Bear to work colleagues

Broadcaster Stephen Nolan sent "sexually explicit images" of a later convicted sex offender to other BBC employees working on his radio and television shows.

An investigation led to a case to be answered under the BBC's disciplinary policy, with the organisation stating "appropriate action" was taken.

The images were of Stephen Bear, a reality television personality currently in prison following his conviction for "revenge porn" and voyeurism after he circulated footage of his former girlfriend engaged in sexual activity.

Stephen Bear was jailed for 21 months for sharing a private video on OnlyFans (Joe Giddens/PA)
Stephen Bear was jailed for 21 months for sharing a private video on OnlyFans (Joe Giddens/PA)

Details of the complaint are revealed in documents obtained by the Irish News, part of a wider investigation looking behind the scenes of his shows on Radio Ulster, BBC 5 Live and Nolan Live on television.

Multiple sources have spoken to this publication, which, along with documents, has also been given access to internal correspondence among Nolan and his team. 

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The sources have come forward with details of hard-charging work conditions, circulating inappropriate images of a naked person, and ways used to stir debate, many related to controversial political and social issues. 

At least one former member of Nolan's team made a formal complaint of bullying against him in connection with his radio show, which was not upheld following an investigation, largely as all other members of the "tight knit group" found the radio show "a very good one to work on". 

However, two former staff members, neither of them in the group, received counselling for work-related stress. One was referred to a psychiatrist.

Messages between the team do reveal a high level of sexual innuendo and a dislike for other arms of BBC NI, particularly news, and some its staff. 

Nolan himself refers to Talkback host William Crawley as a "devious c***". The newsroom more broadly was referred to in a similar way.

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BBC broadcaster William Crawley
BBC broadcaster William Crawley

Abusive remarks about politicians are also shared while the messages shed further light on Nolan's relationship with the loyalist activist Jamie Bryson, who is referred to on numerous occasions, including in connection with banned bonfires.

The behind-the-scenes dive follows the publication of details on Mr Nolan's production company, Third Street Studios, its millions in funds and links to the BBC. The corporation has not answered questions on the multiple contracts and commissions, citing commercial confidentiality. 

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Shares in the company were transferred to an entity controlled by bookmaker Paul McLean. 

According to internal correspondence, BBC staff on the Nolan Show on radio also work extensively on Nolan Live, co-produced by Nolan’s company Third Street Studios, the BBC has confirmed.

Messages containing the "sexually explicit images", seen by the Irish News, were described as "beyond the pale” by one of the recipients in an internal complaint to BBC Northern Ireland in 2018.

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BBC Broadcasting House in Belfast
BBC Broadcasting House in Belfast

In the complaint, the individual suggests the initial photograph of Bear’s penis circulated by Mr Nolan was a “deliberate attempt to undermine and embarrass me”. 

The complainant said “further distress” was caused when a second “different explicit photo of Stephen Bear naked" with his penis in a state of arousal was also sent out in another group text by Stephen Nolan.

Nolan Live

The text messages and photographs related to Bear’s possible appearance on Nolan Live on BBC One. Nolan threatened to send more explicit images if Bear was not booked on the television show.

"I want Bear!" Nolan wrote in one message, adding in another: "If I don't get Bear tomorrow night I'm sending more bear photos." The messages were sent as the team was trying to book the then recent Celebrity Big Brother winner on Nolan Live.

During the 2016 show, Bear stripped off as part of a segment on modelling. Both he and Nolan modelled in their underwear live on television. The footage remained on the BBC website up to publication. Bear last week was ordered to pay more than £200,000 in compensation to his victim, ex-girlfriend Georgia Harrison.

An internal probe took place in 2018 in which the “circulation of sexually explicit images" led to “a case to be answered by Stephen Nolan”. 

It stated the outcome of the disciplinary process “has been managed internally”.  “While the specific outcome of the process is private and confidential to Stephen, I can confirm that appropriate action has been taken,” the document said.

The investigation into the circulation of the images, and the bullying claims, are known to have been addressed in some way by the BBC.

Multiple sources, speaking with inside knowledge, have confirmed Nolan's outsized ability to drive in a certain direction the conversation on crucial and sensitive debates and his huge influence within the BBC.

Messages and testimony do reveal one codename in the office was "ra ra", described by sources to mean delivering a row on a show. 

Nolan Live had what was referred to a "bear pit" in the audience. Junior members of the radio show staff would be placed in the audience to relay to the production team if they spotted "someone feisty". 

Questions have also circulated for some time over the frequency of certain guests. Notably, TUV leader Jim Allister has been on 13 times in the first half of this year, jointly second only to Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie. Sinn Fein has boycotted for some time while the SDLP began one in March.

Jamie Bryson, who has never been elected, has also appeared on the show, including once when he was introduced by Nolan as “a loyalist linked to the East Belfast UVF”.

Jamie Bryson
Jamie Bryson

Bryson said: “That is an outrageous way to introduce me on the show….I do not speak for the LCC, I do not speak for the UVF or the UDA nor do I represent their views…I am most certainly not linked to the UVF or any other proscribed organisation.” 

"The BBC is confident in how we are introducing you,” Nolan replied.

But messages from before that exchange appear to show a friendly relationship.

In exchanges in July 2017 ahead of the 12th that year reveal Nolan was in touch with Bryson, describing him in one message as "my wee mate Jamie".

Another stated: "Looks like we will be in on the 12th. That tip off Bryson gave us was an injunction on bonfires - it could well kick off this year". Court ordered injunctions were placed on three east Belfast bonfires.

Nolan later added about a bonfire: "Jamie invited me to his tonight, said I'd be safe with him." He added a heart-shaped eyes e-moji.

In another message to a member of his team, Nolan passed on a note from Bryson stating there was a press conference "which will be very embarrassing for DUP/SF but especially the DUP". 

The "appropriate action" on the circulation of sexually explicit images followed a wider internal grievance investigation into Nolan. 

A BBC human resources manager brought in from England concluded Nolan did not have a case to answer on most of the claims of bullying and harassment after reviewing notes of meetings and interviewing the then current Nolan Show members. They were asked about the level of conversation on sexual matters and about work pressure and atmosphere.

"All of the interviewees said that they found the show a very good one to work on...They acknowledged it was a tough show because of the nature of the subjects they covered and the fact it was daily and live," it was reported in one document.

"They said they were a tight knit group who worked well together and all felt they could and did speak up when needed to when people disagreed." 

It continues: "Most said there was a level of banter in the team but it was not something that they found personally offensive." 

Messages do reveal quite a number of sexually explicit exchanges, along with innuendo, some of which Nolan was directly involved in, some not. There does not appear to be any strong objections among the team in the messages seen by The Irish News.

Further, the abusive messages about BBC colleagues and others about politicians circulated without any strong objections in the reviewed correspondence.

Nolan made the comment about Crawley after the Talkback presenter raised the former's salary on air. It is currently around £400,000 a year.

Read more:Former Sinn Féin MLA calls on BBC to reveal disparaging messages made by Stephen Nolan's team

There are several disparaging messages, not from Nolan, about politicians, including Arlene Foster when she was First Minister, Martina Anderson and Alex Attwood.

Another message described UTV’s Marc Mallett as “Timmy Mallet” to which Nolan replied, “He’s awful”. There were more.

Sources testify there was a “siege mentality”, with Nolan privately calling his staff "the dissidents" that it is “us against the world” and “everyone is out to get us". This is to an extent backed up by messages, particularly those attacking other elements within Broadcasting House and the reference in documents to the "tight knit group". 

According to leaked documents, those working for the radio show were also well paid. The budget for one year, 2016/2017 was more than £700,000.

This included Nolan’s £155,000 salary and the production team costs, including almost £90,000 for its editor, over £240,000 in total for four producers, almost £58,000 for its reporter and around £37,000 each for two content assistants.

More than £20,000 was spent on contributors, invited guests who appeared in the studio or on the phone, as well as £5,000 on merchandise, such as mugs and t-shirts.

Stephen Nolan and the BBC

Stephen Nolan, an award-winning broadcaster, last week celebrated the latest figures revealing his show to be still the most listened to in the north.

It is agreed among sources he is hugely talented, including at consistently keeping high numbers over a prolonged period. 

But, it is also agreed, this is precisely why he has seemed "invincible" and "untouchable" within the BBC for many years and in relation to commissions his Third Street Studios was able to secure.

In a statement on Monday evening BBC NI said: “We don’t comment on individual staffing matters. The BBC has established processes in place to deal with any workplace-related issues and concerns. These are applied fairly, consistently and with all appropriate safeguards, including in relation to confidentiality.”