BBC 'covered up' and 'fell short of high standards of integrity' over Princess Diana interview

  • Video report by ITV News Royal Editor Chris Ship

The BBC "fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark," an investigation into Martin Bashir's explosive 1995 Panorama interview with Diana, Princess of Wales has found.

A 1996 internal investigation conducted by former director-general Lord Tony Hall, who was director of BBC news and current affairs when the Diana interview was screened, was described as "woefully ineffective" in Lord Dyson's report into the Panorama interview.

Mr Bashir commissioned fake bank statements and used "deceitful behaviour" in a "serious breach" of the BBC's producer guidelines to secure his Panorama interview, the inquiry concluded.

  • Watch ITV News Royal Editor Chris Ship's analysis:

In response to Lord Dyson's findings, Princess Diana's brother Earl Spencer has told BBC Panorama that the interview triggered a series of events which led to her death in 1997.

He told the BBC: "The irony is that I met Martin Bashir on 31 August 1995 because exactly two years later she died.

"And I do draw a line between the two events."

'Diana did lose trust in really key people': Princess Diana's brother Earl Spencer tells BBC Panorama the interview triggered events that led to her death in 1997

He told the BBC: "The irony is that I met Martin Bashir on 31 August 1995 because exactly two years later she died.

"And I do draw a line between the two events."

Earl Spencer said: "It's quite clear from the introduction that I sat in on, on September 19, 1995 - everyone was going to be made untrustworthy.

"And I think that Diana did lose trust in really key people. This is a young girl in her mid-30s who has lived this extraordinarily turbulent and difficult time in the public eye - she didn't know who to trust.

"And in the end when she died two years later, she was without any form of real protection."

It is understood the BBC has written personal apologies to the Prince of Wales, the dukes of Cambridge and Sussex, and Diana’s brother Earl Spencer following the inquiry.

The corporation has also returned the Bafta it received for the Martin Bashir interview, broadcast in 1995, in which Diana said of her marriage to Prince Charles: “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”

Bashir won the Bafta in 1996 for the interview.

The BBC said in a statement: "The 1995 Panorama interview received a number of awards at the time.

"We do not believe it is acceptable to retain these awards because of how the interview was obtained."

Martin Bashir won a Bafta for the interview in 1996 which the BBC has now returned. Credit: PA

The journalist was in “serious breach” of the BBC’s producer guidelines when he faked bank statements and showed them to Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, to gain access to the princess, the inquiry found.

Bashir commissioned documents purporting to show payments into the bank account of Alan Waller, a former employee of Earl Spencer, Commander Patrick Jephson, Diana’s private secretary, and Commander Richard Aylard, private secretary to the Prince of Wales, according to Lord Dyson.

Lord Dyson, former master of the rolls and head of civil justice, was appointed to look into the circumstances surrounding the interview.

The report said: “By showing Earl Spencer the fake Waller and Jephson/Aylard statements and informing him of their contents, Mr Bashir deceived and induced him to arrange a meeting with Princess Diana. By gaining access to Princess Diana in this way, Mr Bashir was able to persuade her to agree to give the interview.”

Mark Killick, a senior producer on Panorama at the time, said Mr Bashir's behaviour was "dishonest" and it clearly showed that the BBC's investigation was "incompetent".

Report shows Martin Bashir’s behaviour was 'dishonest' and the BBC's investigation was 'incompetent' at best, Mark Killick, ex-senior producer on Panorama says

Mr Killick said that there was a “culture of fear” preventing people from speaking out at the BBC.

"I think that one of the things the BBC management did with their incompetent investigation and their attack on the Panorama staff that brought this to light was to send a message to the whole of the BBC that you can’t speak truth to power in certain instances," he said. "If you do, you’ll lose your job."

"And I think that culture of fear echoed for many years afterwards. Now it’s been a long time but I think if [BBC Director General] Tim Davie decides to reinforce the message that you now can tell the BBC things they don’t want to hear and you won’t lose your job, that will be a very positive outcome."

Mr Killick said it was the "BBC's phone hacking moment".

"With phone hacking, the issue was how the story was obtained, not the story itself and it is the same thing here," he said.

He added: "What's interesting is the BBC decide to shoot the messengers, run a smear campaign and then cover up the story.

"Rupert Murdoch to his credit closed the News of the World and it is a strange day when the News of the World-Rupert Murdoch ethics actually trump those of the license-fee funded BBC."

The BBC's current director-general Tim Davie said the corporation accepts "in full" the finding of Lord Dyson's review.

When asked about the accusation from Earl Spencer, Princess Diana's brother, Mr Davie told ITV News Royal Editor Chris Ship: "We're deeply apologetic. 

"I can only be driven by what is in the Dyson report and the evidence I have in front of me - that clearly demonstrates major BBC failings."

He told ITV News: "It's a dark day for the BBC", adding the report "was a difficult read".

'I think it is a dark day for the BBC, beyond that, I think I cannot speculate,' Tim Davie tells ITV News  

Mr Davie has told ITV News: "We pride ourselves on truth, impartiality and equality of our journalism - that is absolutely what we stand for.

"And 25 years ago we fell way short of our own standards at the time let alone the standards that we have now set for ourselves."

'It's a difficult day for the BBC, it's a dark day for the BBC' BBC Director-General Tim Davie tells ITV News

Mr Bashir apologised, saying the faking of bank statements was a "an action I deeply regret" but added he felt it had "no bearing whatsoever on the personal choice by Princess Diana to take part in the interview".

A letter, which was included as evidence in the Lord Dyson report, written on official Kensington Palace stationery and signed by Diana said: "Martin Bashir did not show me any documents, nor give me any information that I was not previously aware of. I consented to the interview on Panorama without any undue pressure and have no regrets concerning the matter."

What are the key findings in Lord Dyson's report?

  • Mr Bashir commissioned fake bank statements and showed them to Earl Spencer

  • Mr Bashir produced and showed the bank statements to Earl Spencer which contained information that had probably been fabricated by Mr Bashir

  • He acted to deceive Earl Spencer and induce him to arrange for Mr Bashir to meet Princess Diana

  • By gaining access to Princess Diana in this way, he was able to persuade her to agree to give the interview

  • Behaving as described above, Mr Bashir acted inappropriately and in serious breach of the BBC's Producers’ Guidelines on straight dealing

Lord Hall is criticised in the investigation by Lord Dyson, the former master of the rolls and head of civil justice, who was appointed to look into the circumstances surrounding the explosive 1995 interview.

He said he accepts the 1996 BBC inquiry into how Panorama secured its interview with Diana, Princess of Wales “fell well short of what was required” and he was “wrong to give Martin Bashir the benefit of the doubt”.

The interview on the BBC’s Panorama programme changed the course of royal history and led to a fast-track divorce.

The Princess spoke of how "there were three of us in this marriage" when Mr Bashir asked her about Prince Charles’ affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles.

Diana was interviewed by Martin Bashir for BBC Panorama Credit: BBC-TV Video/PA

The investigation was launched after Earl Spencer alleged Mr Bashir showed him fake financial documents relating to his sister’s former private secretary Patrick Jephson, and another former royal household member, and told outlandish and untrue stories about the royal family to gain access to the princess.

Lord Dyson said: "The report demonstrates, I believe, that this has been the thorough and fair investigation I set out to do. All key individuals gave comprehensive testimony and I am grateful for their cooperation. It enabled my investigation to establish facts based on evidence and for me to draw the detailed conclusions that have been set out today."

The report said that by showing Diana's brother fake bank statements relating to one of the earl's employees and two senior members of the royal household, "Mr Bashir deceived and induced him to arrange a meeting with Princess Diana". Lord Dyson said: "By gaining access to Princess Diana in this way, Mr Bashir was able to persuade her to agree to give the interview. "This behaviour was in serious breach of the 1993 edition of the BBC's Producer Guidelines on straight dealing."

Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, gave evidence to the inquiry and shared the contemporaneous notes he took when he first met Mr Bashir.

In a statement following the report, Mr Bashir said: "This is the second time that I have willingly fully co-operated with an investigation into events more than 25 years ago. I apologised then, and I do so again now, over the fact that I asked for bank statements to be mocked up. It was a stupid thing to do and was an action I deeply regret. But I absolutely stand by the evidence I gave a quarter of a century ago, and again more recently."

Ahead of the publication of the report on Thursday, the earl shared a black and white family photograph of himself and Diana as children.

He posted the image on Twitter alongside the words: “Some bonds go back a very long way.”

Former BBC employees Mr Killick and Tom Mangold have indicated they may take legal action following the inquiry.

Mr Killick said: "The generic apology certainly isn't enough.

"I think they have to look at all the people who have been damaged and apologise to them individually. More than that I think some people will have legal recourse.

"For me personally, I am taking legal advice on the matter and decide in due course."

Tom Mangold, an investigative journalist and producer of Panorama for 26 years, said he lost his job as did other employees involved in raising the alarm.

He said that they may take legal action but have not decided.

"It is not in our minds at the moment but we will take advice on it and think very carefully about it," he said.

"It was a very unpleasant period, the press kept writing about these trouble-makers and jealous colleagues and it was a very hurtful time for me and for my other innocent colleagues.

"We'll see what happens but Dyson is a good start."

Last week, just before Lord Dyson confirmed that he had completed his investigation, BBC News announced that Mr Bashir had left his job as Religion Editor on ‘health’ grounds. He had suffered complications following surgery for a triple heart bypass.

A former Panorama graphic designer who was asked to make the fake documents, told an ITV documentary last year that he had been made a “fall guy” by the BBC.

Matt Wiessler has broken his silence and spoken to television cameras for the first time – 25 years after the Panorama programme was first broadcast.

In 1995, Mr Wiessler was asked by the then Panorama Mr Bashir to urgently make some mocked-up bank statements.

Mr Bashir used them to as part of a dossier of “evidence” in his bid to Earl Spencer to help arrange the now infamous Panorama interview.

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