Thorn Tree website after action by BBC bosses
Thorn Tree website after action by BBC bosses

BBC bosses were seeking to ward off claims that a popular website it owns was shut down because child sex abuse information was being exchanged on its pages.

The Thorn Tree forum vanished from the Lonely Planet website, which is owned by the BBC. "Inappropriate themes" was the reason given for the move, which was said to be a "precautionary measure".

The BBC is still dealing with the fallout from the paedophile allegations against Jimmy Savile.

The Independent newspaper reported a BBC spokesman denying it was child sex abuse fears that prompted the closure of Thorn Tree. He said that pages on the suspect website were being scoured with a "fine-tooth comb".

"We've found no evidence of discussions concerning paedophilia on the Thorn Tree Forum, but we have discovered instances of inappropriate language and themes," he said.

"Until we are confident that all rogue posts can be identified and appropriate action taken, we feel we have no option but to temporarily close the site as a precautionary measure.

"The forum will only return when we are 100 percent confident that the right moderation systems are in place to ensure there's no repeat of such language [or] themes.

"There's a huge amount of content to be checked - so it's hard to put a timeline on when it will open again," he said.

The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia reported a source claiming that the website was linked by search engines to paedophile search terms.

"They discovered that if you looked for terms like 'paedophile' or 'child prostitution', you got Thorn Tree hits,'' reported the Herald.

Savile: Paedophile
Savile: Paedophile

''The hits are mostly discussions of current events or pointless stuff that would have been moderated, like 'Barney the dinosaur is a big purple paedophile'. However, someone found a thread about 'what's the age of consent in Mexico?' That really set them off.

''They went into full, freak-out, panic attack mode.''

BBC Worldwide,  the profit-making arm of the BBC, purchased Lonely Planet in a £130m deal between 2007 and 2011.