Two episodes of EastEnders which showed the drugging and live burial of Max Branning by wife Tanya breached broadcasting standards, Ofcom ruled.

The media watchdog received 116 complaints from viewers.

The episodes, shown over the Easter weekend, followed Tanya, helped by Sean, as she dragged Max’s sedated body through a wood, throwing him in a grave. As the sedative wears off, Max is clearly aware of the coffin lid coming down and frantically telephones for help, only for the signal to decrease.

It said taken as a whole ‘the scenes of the burial alive shown in both episodes had a seriously disturbing element’, adding: “Overall, the storyline and its treatment had more in common with a dark psychological thriller than a pre-watershed drama.”

The BBC, which received some 600 complaints, stated the storyline was crafted in a responsible manner, with steps taken to alert viewers including pre-transmission announcements.

The Corporation said the lead-up to the scenes, which later saw Max go free, was ‘carefully paced with several indications of the direction of the storyline offered’.

But it admitted the number of complaints suggested the emotional impact was greater than anticipated. The BBC accepted the two programmes were in breach of the Broadcasting Code rules relating to children being protected by scheduling; violence being appropriately limited before the watershed; and broadcasters ensuring any potentially offensive material was justified by the context.

Ofcom said the information supplied at the start ‘didn’t adequately prepare viewers for the extent of the distressing scenes that followed’.

“Given that the nature of the burial scenes in both episodes produced an overall atmosphere of threat and menace at a level and to an extent not suitable before the watershed they were not appropriately limited, and nor were they justified by the context.”