Three journalists have resigned from the panel of the Evening Standard Theatre Awards after a dispute over the judging process.
The Evening Standard denies a report in The Times that editor Sarah Sands and her theatre critic Henry Hitchings changed their votes after it emerged that there was a dead heat in their seven-strong judging panel to decide actress of the year.
Instead, it is understood that judges agreed to create a new award for Rosalie Craig who was in the running for Best Actress and instead awarded her Best Musical Performance award for her role in The Little Princess.
The source close to the judges said: "There's been a bit of confusion here. Because Rosalie Craig had been given an award she was no longer eligible for the Best Actress award. Henry had voted originally for Rosalie, but when she was no longer available, his vote moved to Helen Mirren. Sarah never changed her vote. I think some of the judges were disgruntled because of the secret ballot. It was a new way of doing things."
Following the decision, Dame Helen Mirren was named the winner for her portrayal of the Queen in The Audience.
The Times reported that two of the other contenders were tied in a dead heat and Mirren was in third spot.
According to The Times, judges were allowed to award three points to their favourite performer, two to the second place person and then a single point to the actress in third.
Sands told the Times: “In discussion about what was a dead heat, Henry and I decided that we would go for an option that would make Helen Mirren the winner. By doing a first and second vote we could balance the two factions with a third option which is what happened. It was an absolutely legitimate choice. “
However, the move has prompted Daily Telegraph theatre critic Charles Spencer, the Mail’s Georgina Brown and Susannah Clapp from the Observer to all resign from the panel.
Former chief theatre critic at The Times, Libby Purvis said she would remain as a judge although it will be renamed an “advisory panel” next year.
She said: “There was a raising of eyebrows at one of the awards. Some of us are less cross because we did manage to get things like Merrily we Roll Along as Best Musical rather than The Book of Mormon . . so I felt that there was a good number of awards we were very pleased to see.”
One judge who resigned from the panel told The Times that his colleagues were deeply dissatisfied with the newly-introduced secret ballot, unlike the old system where judges could barter and lobby.
“I was all very open. If we felt at the end that the awards weren’t balanced then would could even it up. They’ve now got a secret voting system, so we don’t hear the results [until the ceremony]. There was one award that we felt, when it was announced, that we didn’t think could have won.”
Another judge added: “One of the awards seemed like a fix.”