ESSEX FM duped listeners in a “foolish” publicity stunt in which two presenters were taken off the air.

Breakfast show DJs Martin Day and Su Harrison were off air for three days this week after the station announced their suspension for making inappropriate comments.

Yesterday, bosses at Global Radio, which owns Essex FM, said the move was a publicity stunt and apologised to listeners.

The news came as BBC Radio 2 controller Lesley Douglas quit following the controversy surrounding messages left on actor Andrew Sachs’s answering machine by presenters Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross. Brand, who is from Grays, quit the station on Wednesday and Ross is suspended for 12 weeks.

A statement from Global Radio, owners of Essex FM, said: “Essex FM appears to have undertaken an unauthorised publicity stunt, which involved the station’s breakfast show.

“Clearly this was a foolish attempt to mislead the public and we apologise to listeners. Global Radio is holding an inquiry and will take the appropriate action.”

The admission comes the day after the station’s programme director, Chris Cotton, told the Echo the decision to take the duo off air was not a publicity stunt, adding that it would be a “risky” thing to do.

Fans of the show who organised protests and internet support campaigns for the presenters were furious they had been tricked.

Tania Furber, 32, of Bellmaine Avenue, Corring-ham, who organised a protest outside the radio station’s offices in Chelmsford on Tuesday, said: “It’s disgusting, I’m disgusted.

“It makes a mockery of the fans. It’s unfair and not a nice thing to do.

“I probably won’t be listening any more.”

Another listener, Bradley Smith, 33, Chenies Drive, Laindon, said: “I’m appalled. The public have been supporting them and it was all just to get as much publicity as they could.”

It has been claimed that Su, who lives in Hockley, was actually on annual leave that had been booked for weeks and was visiting family in Leicester.

Both she and Martin Day, from Canewdon, have been unavailable for comment this week while stories of their suspension circulated.

Last night Essex FM bosses were unavailable for comment, but one worker said many of the crew were upset about the stunt.

He said: “A lot of us feel it has gone too far. It’s not right to dupe the public like this.”