JASON Gardiner has quit Dancing On Ice.
The Aussie judge walked out after ITV bosses secretly auditioned Louie Spence for a place on the panel.
After being dropped, furious Jason last night told pals: “I’ve been stitched up.”
The acid-tongued judge’s shock exit comes after he was slammed last year for “bullying” former judge Karen Barber, telling her live on air: “If your opinion still mattered, you’d be on the panel.”
The Aussie choreographer, 40 – who had a hair transplant last series – was outraged that Louie Spence had secretly been auditioned and told a pal: “They were just trying to get rid of me, so I walked.”
A source close to Jason denied that ITV had dumped him – insisting he quit after discovering a planned shake-up.
The friend said: “Negotiations were ongoing. They did initially try to reach agreement, but there were stumbling blocks on pay and the producers’ lack of commitment to him.
“Jason was annoyed they didn’t immediately give him their backing for another series, after courting possible replacements, so he pulled the plug. He didn’t need the grief.
“But he’s worried that viewers will think he’s been dropped over the row with Karen last year – that’s absolutely not the case.”
Eccentric dance arranger Louie, 42, will now provide the “light relief” on the panel.
Former Spice Girl Emma Bunton, 35, will also be leaving in a major re-shuffle.
Her spot will be filled by German figure skating world champion Katarina Witt, 45, a double Olympic gold medallist and one of the best female skaters in history.
The clear-out leaves ex-Olympian Robin Cousins, 54, as the only original panellist to survive.
An insider said: “There have been criticisms that Jason had got too harsh, with many viewers questioning whether he was qualified to criticise ice skating, but nobody will be able to say that about Katarina.
“She is an international superstar in the skating world, and the producers have approached her several times over the years so it’s great to finally get her. Viewers don’t mind fair criticism, but there is a real feeling that last year things went too far. It’s likely to leave Jason feeling a bit red-faced after what he said to Karen last year.”
Apart from his row with Karen, Jason was also involved in an ugly on-air confrontation with actor Tim Healy after blasting his wife Denise Welch’s skating routine.
Jason’s departure is part of a shake-up, with axed Daybreak host Christine Bleakley joining Phillip Schofield to front the show.
Coaches Karen Barber, Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean all remain, while former host Holly Willoughby is off to the BBC.
New judge Katarina said: “I can’t wait to join the panel. As well as offering constructive advice to this year’s celebrity skaters, I’m also looking forward to working alongside my friends Torvill and Dean.”
ITV entertainment boss Layla Smith added: “We are thrilled to welcome Louie and Katarina.
“The pair have a wealth of experience which they will be bringing to the series. Their flare and passion for their professions will make for some interesting debates.
“We’d like to thank Emma and Jason for their valued contribution and wish them all the best.”