Martin Bashir: Inquiry criticises BBC over ‘deceitful’ Diana interview

Princess Diana and Martin Bashir

BBC/Reuters

The BBC fell short of “high standards of integrity and transparency” over Martin Bashir’s 1995 interview with Princess Diana, an inquiry has found.

Bashir acted in a “deceitful” way and faked documents to obtain the interview, the inquiry said.

And the BBC’s own internal probe in 1996 into what happened was “woefully ineffective”, it added.

The BBC and Bashir have both apologised, and the BBC has written to Princes William and Harry.

The corporation said the report showed “clear failings”, admitting it should have made more effort to get to the bottom of what happened at the time.

As well as Diana’s sons, the BBC has also written apologies to Prince Charles and Diana’s brother Earl Spencer. It is also returning all awards the interview received, including a TV Bafta won in 1996.

Bashir said mocking up the documents “was a stupid thing to do” and he regretted it, but said they had no bearing on Diana’s decision to be interviewed.

Lord Dyson – the retired judge who led the inquiry – found:

  • Bashir seriously breached BBC rules by mocking up fake bank statements to gain access to the princess
  • He showed the fake documents to Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, to gain his trust so he would introduce Bashir to Diana
  • By gaining access to Diana in this way, Bashir was able to persuade her to agree to give the interview
  • When the BBC carried out its own investigation into the tactics used to get the interview in 1996 – led by future BBC director general Lord Hall – it “fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark”
  • A 1995 letter from Princess Diana – published as evidence – said she had “no regrets” concerning the matter

Princess Diana’s interview with Bashir for Panorama was a huge scoop for the BBC – in it, the princess famously said: “There were three of us in this marriage.”

It was the first time a serving royal had spoken so openly about life in the Royal Family – viewers saw her speak about her unhappy marriage to Prince Charles, their affairs, and her bulimia.

But since then, Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, has questioned the tactics used by journalist Bashir to get the interview.

The independent inquiry was commissioned by the BBC last year, after Earl Spencer went public with the allegations. Its findings were published on Thursday.

Lord Dyson found that Bashir deceived Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, by showing him forged bank statements that falsely suggested individuals were being paid for keeping the princess under surveillance.

Extracts from the fake bank statements used to gain Diana's trust

Dyson Investigation

The inquiry said Bashir had later lied when he told BBC managers he had not shown the fake documents to anyone.

And it described significant parts of Bashir’s account of the events of 1995 as “incredible, unreliable, and in some cases dishonest”.

In a statement, Bashir apologised for mocking up the documents, but said he remained “immensely proud” of the interview.

He said: “The bank statements had no bearing whatsoever on the personal choice by Princess Diana to take part in the interview.

“Evidence handed to the inquiry in her own handwriting [and published alongside the report today] unequivocally confirms this, and other compelling evidence presented to Lord Dyson reinforces it.”

The investigation has also published, for the first time, the note written by the princess in December 1995 – after the interview was broadcast – in which she said she had no regrets.

The letter from Diana to Martin Bashir from 1995

Dyson Investigation

Lord Dyson said the note had been found in November 2020 and given to BBC officials.

The note reads: “Martin Bashir did not show me any documents, nor give me any information that I was not previously aware of.”

As well as Bashir, the report also criticises the BBC over how it handled the claims about Bashir’s tactics.

In 1996, the BBC carried out its own internal investigation, which cleared Bashir, Panorama and BBC News of wrongdoing.

Lord Dyson said that investigation – led by then-director of news Lord Hall – was “woefully ineffective”.

And as media pressure increased, the BBC gave “evasive” answers to journalists’ questions, he said.

The report found when the BBC was asked about the bank statements by journalists in March 1996, senior BBC officials – including Lord Hall – already knew Bashir had lied three times about not having shown them to Earl Spencer.

But the BBC press office told journalists that Bashir was “an honest and honourable man”.

“For the reasons that I have given, I am satisfied that the BBC covered up in its press logs such facts as it had been able to establish about how Bashir secured the interview,” said Lord Dyson.

He said the BBC “fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark”.

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Analysis box by Amol Rajan, media editor

The Dyson Report shows a catalogue of moral, professional and editorial failures at the BBC in the 1990s, which occur on three main levels.

First, the interview of the century was obtained by deception. Martin Bashir has admitted to forging bank statements. This report says he lied repeatedly to several people, including at the BBC.

Second, the investigation led by Tony Hall was “woefully ineffective”. Bashir was believed far too readily. Earl Spencer was not interviewed. Crucially, Dyson rejects the grounds given for this failure by Hall and his team.

Finally, Dyson uses a phrase which he knows to be explosive. There was a “cover up”. The origin of the cover up is not clear. But no matter: the BBC conspired, on vast scale, to deceive the public it is funded by and serves.

This report will not just injure the BBC, but scar it. And it should be granted that though it shows the historic failures of BBC journalists, it also shows the power and merit of journalism.

It is thanks to determined reporters, not least at the Daily Mail group, that we today have the first full account of the real story behind the most remarkable – and arguably consequential – interview in television history.

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In a statement, Lord Hall said he was wrong to give Bashir the “benefit of the doubt” at the time.

He added: “Throughout my 35-year career at the BBC, I have always acted in ways I believe were fair, impartial and with the public interest front and centre.

“While Lord Dyson does not criticise my integrity, I am sorry that our investigation failed to meet the standards that were required.”

The BBC’s current director general, Tim Davie, said: “Although the report states that Diana, Princess of Wales, was keen on the idea of an interview with the BBC, it is clear that the process for securing the interview fell far short of what audiences have a right to expect. We are very sorry for this. Lord Dyson has identified clear failings.

“While today’s BBC has significantly better processes and procedures, those that existed at the time should have prevented the interview being secured in this way.

“The BBC should have made greater effort to get to the bottom of what happened at the time and been more transparent about what it knew.

“While the BBC cannot turn back the clock after a quarter of a century, we can make a full and unconditional apology. The BBC offers that today.”

The chairman of the corporation, Richard Sharp, also said the BBC “unreservedly accepted” the report’s findings that there were “unacceptable failures”.

“We take no comfort from the fact that these are historic,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lord Birt – who was BBC director general at the time of the interview – said thanks to the inquiry, “we now know that the BBC harboured a rogue reporter on Panorama”.

“This is a shocking blot on the BBC’s enduring commitment to honest journalism, and it is a matter of the greatest regret that it has taken 25 years for the full truth to emerge.”

Bashir, 58, is one of the most well-known journalists in the UK.

As well as Diana, he also made headlines for his interview with the pop star Michael Jackson which was broadcast in 2003, and worked for ITV as well as various US television networks.

Last week he left the BBC, citing ongoing health issues. He had been the corporation’s religion correspondent and editor since 2016.

Ahead of the report being published, Earl Spencer shared a photograph on Twitter of him and Diana as children, along with the words: “Some bonds go back a very long way.”

A Panorama investigation into the interview – delayed from last week – will be shown at 19:00 BST on BBC One.

Posted in UK