Martin Bashir and the BBC are expected to face severe backlash over the methods used to secure Princess Diana's 1995 Panorama interview  

By Phil Boucher
May 20, 2021 06:48 AM
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Journalist Martin Bashir used "deceitful methods" to secure his controversial interview with Princess Diana in 1995, an official BBC inquiry found on Thursday.  

The report, which was compiled by former High Court judge Lord John Dyson, states that Bashir, 58, breached the BBC's editorial guidelines by creating two false bank statements to improperly manipulate Diana into giving the interview, according to a report in The Daily Telegraph.

The six-month inquiry blasts senior BBC executives over allegations of a cover-up, adds The Daily Telegraph.

"The use of deceit in making factual programs would have been permissible only in the case of investigating serious crime… and where prima facie evidence of the guilt of that person being investigated had already been obtained," Richard Ayre, the BBC's controller of editorial policy in 1995, told The Daily Telegraph Thursday.

Martin Bashir interviews Princess Diana
Martin Bashir interviews Princess Diana
| Credit: Pool Photograph/Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images

"Those circumstances clearly don't apply to an interview with the Princess of Wales. It would not have been acceptable to use significant deceit in this case."

In a statement, BBC Director-General Tim Davie says, "I would like to thank Lord Dyson. His report into the circumstances around the 1995 interview is both thorough and comprehensive. The BBC accepts Lord Dyson's findings in full. 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."

Listen below to our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day for more on details on the report about former BBC journalist Martin Bashir's Panorama interview with Princess Diana.

Following his investigation, Lord Dyson says he is "satisfied" that Bashir commissioned fake bank statements and showed them to Spencer. Bashir also flourished statements of Princess Diana's private secretary Patrick Jephson and Prince Charles's private secretary Richard Aylard, which contained information that had "probably been fabricated by Mr. Bashir."

He did this to "deceive and induce" Diana's brother Charles Spencer to gain his trust and arrange a meeting with the princess, he continues.

By this "deceitful behavior, therefore, Mr. Bashir succeeded in engineering the meeting that led to the interview," Dyson says. But he adds, Diana would probably have agreed to an interview, with current royal correspondent Mr. Nick Witchell, or a "BBC journalist of similar experience and reputation," as she was, he says, "keen on the idea."

Dyson adds, "I have found Earl Spencer to be a credible and truthful witness. On the other hand, Mr Bashir has demonstrably lied in certain important respects." He also called Spencer a "credible and convincing witness."

charles spencer, princess diana
Charles Spencer and Princess Diana
| Credit: Amanda Edwards/WireImage; Tim Graham Photo Library/Getty

In a statement on the BBC, Bashir apologized for mocking up the documents but said he remained "immensely proud" of the interview.

Bashir quit his post as BBC religion editor ahead of the network's release of the inquiry report. The BBC's deputy director of news, Jonathan Munro, announced the news to staff in a May 15 email, according to The Guardian.

"He let us know of his decision last month, just before being readmitted to hospital for another surgical procedure on his heart," Munro wrote. "Although he underwent major surgery toward the end of last year, he is facing some ongoing issues and has decided to focus on his health."

Bashir's Panorama interview with Diana, during which the late royal famously claimed there were "three of us" in her marriage to Prince Charles, swiftly led to an order from Queen Elizabeth that Diana and Charles should divorce (they had separated in 1992). Diana died at age 36 following a car crash in Paris in August 1997, one year after she and Charles officially divorced.

In October 2020, the Sunday Times alleged that Bashir, 58, improperly manipulated Diana into giving the interview by showing two false bank statements to her brother, Charles Spencer.

Speaking exclusively to PEOPLE in November 2020, Earl Spencer stated that Bashir's documents played a hugely influential role in his decision to approach Diana about the interview, as they alleged that a member of his staff was being paid to leak information about the princess's family.

"This was what led me to talk to Diana about such things," he told PEOPLE at the time. "This, in turn, led to the meeting where I introduced Diana to Bashir, on September 19, 1995. This then led to the interview."

As publication of the report drew close early on Thursday, Spencer tweeted a sweet photo of him with his sister, underlining his motivation. "Some bonds go back a very long way," he added poignantly alongside.

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Following the Sunday Times report and pressure from Diana's family, the BBC director general, Tim Davie, commissioned an independent inquiry into Bashir's tactics.

Bashir was also the subject of a criminal investigation earlier this year, though the Metropolitan Police decided in March that "no further action" would be taken against the journalist. 

"In recent months the Metropolitan Police Service received correspondence alleging unlawful activity in connection with a documentary broadcast in 1995," Commander Alex Murray said in a Scotland Yard release. "This was carefully assessed by specialist detectives."

"Following this detailed assessment and in view of the advice we received, we have determined that it is not appropriate to begin a criminal investigation into these allegations," the release continued.