he lies and fake documents used by Martin Bashir to secure his famous BBC interview with Princess Diana were covered up by corporation executives in a woeful failure that breached its own integrity rules, a damning report today revealed.
In a scathing demolition of the way the interview was secured and the support given afterwards to Bashir, the former High Court judge Lord Dyson found that the journalist deceived Earl Spencer with fake bank statements to gain access to the Princess.
He said that Bashir also lied three times about what had happened before finally admitting the truth.
Lord Dyson said that before this a succession of senior executives, including former director general Lord Hall, had been too willing to accept the “uncorroborated assertions” made by Bashir as he attempted to conceal what he had done.
But the judge said that even when the lies were confirmed, the BBC covered up what had happened.
“Without justification, the BBC fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark by covering up in its press logs such facts as it had been able to establish about how Mr Bashir secured the interview and failing to mention Mr Bashir’s activities or the BBC investigations of them on any news programme,” his report states.
Lord Dyson was commissioned by the BBC to investigate the circumstances that led to the interview and what followed in the wake of a succession of claims that Bashir gained access to the Diana by presenting her with false evidence.
His report points out that Princess Diana had become keen on the idea of giving an interview and “would probably have agreed to be interviewed by any experienced and reputable reporter in whom she had confidence.”
But the judge says that Bashir managed to secure what became “a sensational triumph” for himself and the BBC by commissioning fake bank statements from a freelance graphic designer and showing them to Earl Spencer to gain access to Diana.
“By showing Earl Spencer the fake … statements and informing him of their contents, Mr Bashir deceived and induced him to arrange a meeting with Princess Diana,” the report states.
“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
The judge goes on to criticise the BBC executives Tim Suter, Richard Peel and Lord Hall for concluding that Bashir’s dealings with Princess Diana were “absolutely straight on fair” on the basis of his “uncorroborated assertions”
He also says concludes that although a note from Princess Diana saying that she had not seen the fake documents appeared to be genuine, Bashir lied several times in an attempt to conceal that he had shown them to Earl Spencer.
The retired judge adds that the BBC executive Tim Gardam was one of those duped and that he had “too readily accepted that Bashir was telling the truth about the fake documents”.
A subsequent investigation by Lord Hall and another BBC manager, Anne Sloman, was “woefully ineffective”.
Lord Dyson said one reason was the failure to interview Earl Spencer and rejected the arguments made by Lord Hall and Mrs Sloman in their defence, as well as those put forward by Lord Birt, the former BBC director general.
The report adds: “Lord Hall could not reasonably have concluded, as he did, that Mr Bashir was an honest and honourable man.”
His statement further added: “I also reiterate that 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.
“In fact, despite his other findings, Lord Dyson himself in any event accepts that the Princess would probably have agreed to be interviewed without what he describes as my ‘intervention’.
“It is saddening that this single issue has been allowed to overshadow the Princess’ brave decision to tell her story, to courageously talk through the difficulties she faced, and, to help address the silence and stigma that surrounded mental health issues all those years ago.
“She led the way in addressing so many of these issues and that’s why I will always remain immensely proud of that interview.”
Lord Hall said the BBC’s 1996 investigation into how Bashir obtained the interview “fell well short of what was required” and he was “wrong to give Martin Bashir the benefit of the doubt”.
He said: “I have read Lord Dyson’s report, and I accept that our investigation 25 years ago into how Panorama secured the interview with Princess Diana fell well short of what was required.
“In hindsight, there were further steps we could and should have taken following complaints about Martin Bashir’s conduct.
“I was wrong to give Martin Bashir the benefit of the doubt, basing that judgment as I did on what appeared to be deep remorse on his part.
“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.”
BBC director general Tim Davie said the corporation accepted Lord Dyson’s findings in full. He added: “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.”
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.”