Jeremy Clarkson appears to have broken driving laws by using a spare number plate registered to an entirely different car while filming a controversial episode of Top Gear in Argentina.
Photographs show that the BBC crew switched to a different plate - H1 VAE - on the rear of the car, following claims that the original registration of the grey 1991 Porsche - H982 FKL - was a reference to the 1982 Falklands War.
But the replacement plate is licensed to another car, a white 2006 Porsche.
The DVLA said last night that it was an offence under the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 to drive a car "in this country or abroad" under a plate other than the one assigned to the vehicle.
The controversy is the latest to be associated with the highly paid presenter, who claimed that "someone could have been killed" as a mob of Argentine protesters forced the Top Gear team to abandon filming in Tierra del Fuego and flee the country. Top Gear's executive producer Andy Willman, along with the rest of the film crew, returned to the UK today after a reportedly dramatic escape.
In an article published in the Sunday Times at the weekend, Clarkson claimed that the use of the H982 FKL plate had been a mere "coincidence". Records show that the ageing car was bought in August this year, suggesting it was acquired specifically for the project in Argentina, where it was one of three sports cars driven by the popular show's presenters. Some car websites allow purchasers to search for letters in a number plate.
According to the grey Porsche's history, it changed its registration to H1 VAE for a three-year period before 2001 and then reverted back to H982 FKL. The fact that the Top Gear team was travelling with the old plate, by now assigned to another vehicle, will add to suspicion that the BBC team realised that the original registration was contentious. Veterans groups in Argentina have described the plate as "a mockery to us all".
The BBC said it was not able to answer questions about the matter at this stage. It would ask the Top Gear crew about the registration plates used, although "not in an investigative way". The BBC's director of television Danny Cohen said in August that Clarkson was "not untouchable" after the presenter had been involved in a series of race rows, and the programme was criticised by Ofcom.
The plates on the cars used by Clarkson's fellow presenters James May and Richard Hammond also aroused suspicions in Argentina. The plate on May's Lotus contained the number 646, which Juan Manuel Romano, an official in the province of Ushuaia, suggested could be a reference to the 649 Argentinean dead in the Falklands conflict. He noted that Hammond's Ford Mustang had 269 in its plate, close to the 255 losses suffered by the British.
"The numbers are not identical but they are very close. It could be a coincidence but we can't risk that it isn't and in that way affecting the sensibilities of the people of Tierra del Fuego," he said, demanding the cars be not used in public spaces.