ITV is to reimburse up to eight million voters who took part in phone competitions that they had no chance of winning.

Company chairman Michael Grade called the scandal, which took place under former chief executive Charles Allen, “horrible” and “inexcusable.”

In 2006 Mr Allen was named the UK’s 16th most influential gay and lesbian person by The Independent.

The company has suspended any further text and red button voting while media watchdog Ofcom investigates the incident.

It is thought no-one at ITV will lose their job.

A number of ITV’s prime-time shows were singled out for criticism, after it was discovered production staff were choosing TV contestants on how enthusiastic they were or how good they looked, rather than selecting them at random.

Among these are three programmes hosted by Ant and Dec, including their Saturday Night Takeaway and Gameshow Marathon. The pair deny any knowledge of what was occurring.

MP John Whittingdale, Chairman of the Culture and Media Committee said: “The report has revealed some very serious abuses.

“The fact is that viewers were being misled, they were being encouraged to enter competitions on the understanding it was being done in a fair basis, when in actual fact they had no chance of winning.”

ITV has announced £7.8m is available for reimbursements. Any money not reclaimed will be donated to charity.