The BBC has been hit with a flood of complaints over a harrowing sex attack scene in crime drama Silent Witness.
Viewers were appalled at the graphic violence on the BBC1 series this week, contacting the broadcaster in their hundreds to register anger.
As well as a scene in which a murderous prison guard carried out a prolonged sexual assault on a man, apparently using a baton, the programme also featured explicit images of a man having his throat cut.
Although the show, starring Emilia Fox and Tom Ward, aired after the watershed, viewers said the assault was ‘graphic and nasty’ and ‘went too far’.
The BBC is standing by its programme but offered an apology to viewers who were offended.
The controversial scenes came in a two-part story, shown on Sunday and Monday, about a prison where one of the guards was a killer.
There have been more than 500 complaints about the two episodes, with the BBC receiving 483 and media regulator Ofcom a further 35. The complaints will be assessed by Ofcom.
A large number related to the scenes where prison officer Daniel Kessler, played by Leo Gregory, was shown attacking a drug dealer in a toilet.
Viewers heard the violence being carried out in a closed cubicle and saw blood seep from beneath the door. The man’s half-dressed body was later seen as the prison guard emerged from the cubicle.
While the attack was not shown in full, the use of sound, including the maniacal comments of the killer and the screams of the victim, left viewers in little doubt what was happening.
Just before this, the programme had shown pictures of an abused corpse relating to the attack, which was then revealed in flashback.
Other violent scenes showed Officer Kessler slitting the throat of a colleague and bludgeoning to death another man.
Viewers expressed their shock on internet message-boards.
One said: ‘I have only just started watching Silent Witness and think that series like this are far too graphic and nasty and I am not surprised that we have violence in real life today.’
Another said: ‘I love Silent Witness and am not shy to a nice gritty drama… but I have to say that scene in the toilet went too far.’
A BBC statement said the scene ‘was not an attempt to gratuitously shock the audience’ but was ‘rooted in character and research’ and showed ‘the brutality that Kessler was capable of’.
It claimed that as the show was in its 15th series, the ‘general tone and content’ was widely recognised by its regular audience.
‘We don’t feel the content of these episodes would have gone beyond viewers’ expectations,’ the statement said, insisting there was a warning about the nature of the content before the episodes were shown.
But the broadcaster added: ‘We’re sorry if you [viewers] felt we got it wrong on this occasion.’