An independent inquiry into the tactics used by the BBC to secure a bombshell 1995 interview with Princess Diana has concluded that reporter Martin Bashir “deceived” his way to accessing the Princess of Wales, and that the BBC’s response to his deception was “woefully ineffective.”
The BBC has apologized unreservedly after the findings of Lord Dyson’s inquiry were published on Thursday following a six-month investigation by the former supreme court judge, which has cost the UK broadcaster £1.4 million ($2M).
The inquiry is being described in the UK press as the BBC’s phone-hacking moment and Dyson’s report effectively accuses the broadcaster of a cover-up. A cover-up that was ultimately overseen by Tony Hall, who was the BBC’s director general until just last year.
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Incumbent BBC 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.”
He added: “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.”
In Dyson’s 127-page report, he concludes that Bashir “commissioned fake bank statements” that helped him secure access to Princess Diana through her brother, Charles Spencer. Bashir, Dyson wrote, “deceived and induced him [Spencer] to arrange a meeting with Princess Diana” during which he persuaded her to take part in the 1995 Panorama interview. “This behaviour was in serious breach of the 1993 edition of the BBC’s Producer Guidelines on straight dealing,” Dyson said.
Following the broadcast of the Panorama, the graphic designer Bashir commissioned, Matt Wiessler, raised concerns about the forged bank statements, which purported to show payments from The Sun’s publisher, News International, and an offshore company to a former employee of Spencer. This played on Princess Diana’s paranoia at the time that she was being spied on and that her life was in danger.
Wiessler’s alarm eventually led to an internal BBC investigation in 1996, spearheaded by former BBC director general Hall, who was in charge of the corporation’s news division at the time. Dyson said the probe was “woefully ineffective” because Spencer was not interviewed and Bashir’s account was not scrutinized with a “necessary degree of scepticism and caution.”
“Lord Hall could not reasonably have concluded, as he did, that Mr Bashir was an honest and honourable man,” said Dyson. On the question of whether Hall was involved in a cover-up, he added: “The BBC fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark.”
The findings come after former MSNBC anchor Bashir left the BBC last Friday on health grounds. His star rose on the back of the award-winning Panorama interview, during which Princess Diana uttered the now-famous words that there were “three of us in this marriage” in relation to Prince Charles’ extramarital affair with Camilla Parker Bowles.
In a statement today, Bashir acknowledged his error of judgment. “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,” he said. “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.”
Also commenting today, former BBC director general Hall said that his original inquiry “fell well short of what was required” and he was “wrong to give Martin Bashir the benefit of the doubt.”
BBC chairman Richard Sharp said: “The BBC board welcomes the publication of Lord Dyson’s report which it unreservedly accepts. There were unacceptable failures. We take no comfort from the fact that these are historic. The BBC must uphold the highest possible standards. I want to thank Lord Dyson for the thoroughness and diligence of his work.”
Dyson’s inquiry was commissioned last November after Spencer presented the BBC with a “dossier” of evidence that cast new light on the tactics deployed by Bashir to obtain the interview after he was originally cleared of wrongdoing by the broadcaster in 1996.
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