Martin Bashir commissioned fake bank statements and used “deceitful behaviour” in a “serious breach” of the BBC’s producer guidelines to secure his Panorama interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, the newly-published Dyson report shows.
Lord Dyson’s inquiry also found that the subsequent investigation into the circumstances led by then-director of news Lord Hall was “woefully ineffective”.
- September 16, 2021
- September 15, 2021
- September 15, 2021
The former master of the rolls and head of civil justice was appointed to look into the circumstances surrounding the explosive 1995 interview, which famously featured Diana saying: “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”
Bashir breached BBC rules by mocking up fake bank statements and showing them to Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, to gain access to the princess, the report said. This was a “serious breach” of producer guidelines on straight dealing.
The BBC in response has issued a “full and unconditional apology”.
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 BBC added that it was writing to a number of individuals involved or linked to the events to apologise directly. According to PA, this included writing to the royal family.
The BBC has also handed back all awards associated with the Panorama programme.
Press office ‘cover-up’
In April 1996 the Mail on Sunday broke the scoop that Bashir (pictured) had falsified bank statements. Nick Fielding, who together with Jason Lewis broke the story, told Press Gazette the story was “unduly and unjustly denied that recognition at the time”.
According to the Dyson report Sunday Times radio columnist Paul Donovan asked the BBC press office at the time why no BBC programmes had reported on the scoop.
Lord Dyson praised the Mail on Sunday story as “detailed” and said it “appeared to be well-researched” and at least five other newspapers also covered the story.
However the BBC press office response called the story “potentially defamatory”, adding: “After careful consideration we decided the story was not sufficiently newsworthy.”
Lord Dyson heard evidence that BBC stories were chosen by individual editors with no “diktats” in place banning reporting of the story. But he dismissed the notion that editorial autonomy was in place in this case.
“I do not believe that, as a matter of editorial judgment, all the relevant BBC editors individually made decisions not to run the story because they considered that it was not sufficiently newsworthy to justify even a brief mention,” he said.
Lord Dyson added: “If it had been left to the untrammelled judgment of the relevant editors, it would have been extraordinary if every single editor honestly believed that the story was not newsworthy. It was obviously of public interest.
“The interview had been a sensational success. The story that it had been secured by some form of deception was bound to be of general interest and not only because it concerned Princess Diana. There was a real public interest in an allegation that the BBC had not acted with the integrity for which it is renowned and in which it takes pride.”
Lord Dyson also said BBC had not even mentioned the internal investigation that had already taken place by late April, let alone its outcome.
“Even the ineffective investigation that was undertaken revealed that Mr Bashir had commissioned the fake Waller bank statements and that he had shown them to Earl Spencer some time before the Princess Diana interview was aired,” he said.
“It had concluded that Mr Bashir had committed a serious breach of the BBC’s Guidelines on straight dealing. These facts alone made the story newsworthy.”
Lord Dyson said he had concluded the BBC covered up in its press logs what facts had been established about how Bashir secured the interview and said that by failing to answer press questions it “fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark”.
Lord Dyson found that someone from senior management must have ordered that the story not be covered by the BBC, but was not sure who. However he did clear former Panorama editor Steve Hewlett.
Earlier on, in October 1995 around a month before the Diana interview aired, Panorama publicity officer Alison Kelly told staff the BBC was briefing the press that it suspected that stories about fake bank statements were being leaked by jealous colleagues.
Lord Dyson said: “It is clear that someone at the BBC instructed her to give this briefing to the press. The material that I have seen and heard does not enable me to identify that person.
“Lord Hall rightly recognised that such briefing was quite wrong and fell far below the standards of fairness and integrity for which the BBC is renowned.”
Whistleblower ‘will not work for the BBC again’
Matt Wiessler, described in the report as an “entirely reputable” graphic designer who worked for the BBC, was asked by Bashir to mock up the fake statements. He did not know what they would be used for.
After seeing the interview on TV, Wiessler made the connection with the bank statements and became concerned he might have played a role in obtaining the interview by deception. He reported his concerns to the BBC, with Lord Dyson saying he had “behaved responsibly and appropriately”.
However Lord Hall, in a report to then-director general Lord Birt, wrote that steps were being taken to ensure Wiessler “will not work for the
BBC again (when a current contract expires in the next few weeks)”.
“In addition, between now and the summer, we will work to deal with leakers and remove persistent troublemakers from the programme,” he wrote.
Wiessler said in a statement the report showed he had been made “the fall guy”.
“Lord Dyson correctly found the BBC investigation carried out after I raised the alarm was seriously flawed and a smokescreen to protect Bashir,” he said. “The order from BBC management to make sure I never got any more work from the BBC was despicable. It had a devastating effect on my career and professional reputation.
“I hope those responsible for the cover-up will now do the right thing and apologise to me. Tim Davie’s attempted apology today is so bland as to be meaningless. So much damage has been done, not only to me but also to Princess Diana and her family. I would also like to thank the tenacious journalists whose dogged pursuit of the truth brought this to light.”
Lord Hall: ‘I accept we fell short’
Lord Hall, who carried out the initial investigation into Bashir’s actions 25 years ago and later worked his way up to become director-general until he left last year, said in a statement that he accepted it “fell well short of what was required”.
Lord Dyson found the investigation was “woefully ineffective” because Lord Hall and then-acting head of weekly and special programmes Anne Sloman failed to interview Earl Spencer. He dubbed this a “big mistake” and rejected their reasons for making this decision.
He also said they had failed to interrogate Bashir’s account “with the necessary degree of scepticism and caution” even though they knew he had lied three times over whether he had showed the documents to Earl Spencer.
Lord Dyson said this meant Lord Hall “could not reasonably have concluded, as he did, that Mr Bashir was an honest and honourable man”. He also had no basis for stating “the graphic had no part whatsoever in gaining the interview”, the new inquiry has found.
In his statement, Lord Hall said: “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 judgement 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.”
Dyson report published: Martin Bashir response
Although Lord Dyson deemed Earl Spencer to be a “credible witness”, he said there were “significant parts of Mr Bashir’s account that I reject as incredible, unreliable and, in some cases, dishonest”.
Bashir said in a statement: “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.
“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.”
Additional reporting by PA