Princess Diana, Martin Bashir, and the Dyson report

This is probably already known to everyone reading this, but in 1995, Princess Diana gave an exclusive interview to Martin Bashir for BBC’s Panorama program. Diana and Charles were separated at the time, but this interview blew the situation wide open (see: Diana’s “Well, there were three of us in the marriage, so it was a bit crowded” comment).

In late 1995 and early 1996, stories came out in the press saying that the BBC’s Martin Bashir had doctored or forged bank statements to look like Diana’s staff had been getting paid by tabloids to spy on her. An in-house BBC investigation was undertaken in 1996, and although Bashir admitted that he had, in fact, forged the documents, that it had no bearing on Diana giving or not giving the interview. In addition, the BBC asked Diana to indicate to them whether she felt used by the program, and Diana provided the BBC this note:

So that’s case closed, right? Well, yes, for 25 years. But in the last year, it has come out via the media/Freedom of Information requests that wrongdoing may have happened because Bashir gave the forged bank statements to Earl Spencer, Diana’s brother, who then told her that Bashir was legitimate and that she should do the interview. So rather than Bashir being vindicated for not having shown Diana the forged statements, he should be severely criticized and censured for trying to get the Diana interview by building a relationship with Diana’s brother and then showing HIM the documents, knowing that that information would get to Diana.

In November of 2020, the BBC decided to undertake another investigation into the situation surrounding Princess Diana, Martin Bashir, and Panorama. This investigation would look into whether Bashir directly or indirectly (through Earl Spencer) lied and used fraud to get Diana to agree to the interview.

The 2020-21 investigation was totally independent of the BBC and was prepared by the Right Honourable Lord Dyson. Lord Dyson is currently a law professor at Oxford but was previously Master of the Rolls (President of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales and Head of Civil Justice) and a Justice of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. In short, he knows his stuff and is capable of doing a good job on an investigation as broad and complicated as this. The report outlining Dyson’s investigation (the Dyson report) was released yesterday, May 20.

I have just finished reading the 127-page Dyson report (you’re welcome). Here is what I can tell you about the situation surrounding Princess Diana’s Panorama interview:

Regardless of everything else, Diana wanted to talk to the press

The report says that “She would probably have agreed to be interviewed by any experienced and reputable reporter in whom she had confidence even without the intervention of Mr Bashir (page 2).”

Bashir acted in an inappropriate, fraudulent way

Martin Bashir commissioned a graphic designer to mock up fake bank statements that indicated that some of Princess Diana’s staff, as well as a member of her brother, Earl Spencer’s staff, were selling stories about her to the press. The graphic designer was not told that these documents would be used for fraudulent purposes and went to the BBC as soon as he saw the interview, fearing that he had inadvertently contributed to a fraud. In commissioning these documents and then lying to people, including his bosses at the BBC, about them, Bashir broke the BBC Producer Guidelines that were published in 1993, two years before the interview.

The BBC didn’t investigate claims about the bank statements properly in 1996

Lord Dyson says that the 1996 BBC investigation was “woefully inadequate” as it did not involve Earl Spencer (someone with firsthand knowledge of the events) and trusted Bashir’s claims without scrutiny.

18 people were interviewed for the investigation, including Bashir

Bashir brought two “legal representatives” with him to this interview. Also, during the time of the 2020-21 investigation, he was said to be very sick and was on medical leave from his job at the BBC. You can come to your own conclusions on that one.

Bashir told the inquiry lies about the late Princess Diana to protect himself

Regarding the forged bank statements, Bashir told the Dyson investigation that he had received the financial details of the supposed payments to Earl Spencer and Princess Diana’s staff from news outlets by Princess Diana herself (page 31 of the Lord Dyson report). First of all, this makes no sense. Second, presumably he did this because the late Princess Diana cannot refute his claims. This is low. Bashir also says (page 33 of the Dyson report) that later, Diana admitted that the payments had been made up. Again, putting the blame on the late princess who cannot defend herself. When writing about whether to believe Bashir on this point, Dyson writes, “Significant parts of Mr Bashir’s account… I reject as incredible, unreliable and, in some cases, dishonest (page 33).”

Re: Bashir’s claims about Diana having given him information, this is Dyson’s finding:

I cannot accept Mr Bashir’s evidence that, for no apparent reason, Princess Diana gave him the figures…Nor can I accept his account that, again for no apparent reason and without any explanation, Princess Diana told him that the information she had given was wrong. (page 36 of the Dyson report)

Bashir preyed on Diana’s paranoia and fears

When speaking with Bashir, Diana told him of her fears about being spied on. It appears that Bashir used the idea of these forged bank statements of Diana’s employees (didn’t show them to her, but implied their existence and showed them to her brother) to fan the flames of Diana’s paranoia and to push her to agree to do an interview with him. The Dyson report says that Diana, after hearing about the bank statements from Earl Spencer, who had heard about them from Bashir, “was absolutely intrigued, and wanted to learn more as quickly as possible: she had felt spied on for a while and what [her brother] told her seemed to fit with her general fears (page 43).”

On pages 51-2 of the report, Lord Dyson gives further examples of Diana’s paranoia and mental vulnerability before the interview, stating that Diana had written at least one letter to her lawyer fearing for her own life and saying that she feared she would die in a car accident with brakes that had been cut. So it was clear that Bashir had attempted to play to Diana’s fears at the time to further his own career and get a massive interview with her.

Also, it is almost certain that Diana wrote the note to the BBC saying that she had no regrets without knowing the level of deception that Bashir had subjected her to. The whole situation around Diana and how she was manipulated and deceived is tragic.

Bashir broke the following BBC producer guidelines:

  • Being a straight dealer with subjects and the public; and
  • Not making anyone feel lied to, deceived, or misled.

To be clear, he lied. He lied a lot. He deceived, he misled, and he was happy to do so if it helped his career or public perception.

To this day, Bashir does not feel that he breached any BBC producer guidelines (page 59).

The BBC broke the following guidelines/public confidences:

  • Failure to supervise Bashir;
  • Failure to ensure that Bashir was working on the piece with a producer (Bashir worked on securing the interview mostly alone, which allowed him to lie and deceive more easily);
  • Failure to interview Earl Spencer about the documents during the 1996 investigation (the BBC took Bashir’s word, even when they had proof that he had lied about the situation several times);
  • Gave press briefings after the interview about other journalists bringing up the forged documents just because they were jealous of Panorama’s scoop;
  • Didn’t let the public know that Bashir had commissioned forged documents to give to Earl Spencer, who would then relay them to Princess Diana, who would then agree to an interview with Bashir (this was known in early 1996);
  • Completed and published findings of an in-house investigation in 1996 that turned out to be completely inadequate and, to some extent, based in lies and speculation (page 105);
  • Punished the graphic designer, rather than Bashir, for the forged documents – it was ordered by senior BBC officials to never hire him again (page 92); and
  • Did not cover the issue at all in 1995-6 on the BBC, even though the story was a national news story (page 120).

This is a particularly damning quote about the BBC’s in-house inquiry and related actions at the time:

[The senior management] all seemed to have a vested interest in the story being stood up and the programme never being tainted, and they ignored what had actually happened, and only an independent investigation could have teased that out, or at least pointed out the anomalies (page 106).

A month after the interview aired, the house of the graphic designer who mocked up the fake bank statements was broken into and robbed(!!!!!)

And the items and mocked-up documents he had worked on for Bashir were stolen (page 66). He immediately told the BBC. We still don’t know who broke into his house.

(Editorial from me, RA: The graphic designer is the unsung hero of this story. He did everything right and acted honestly and morally at every turn, and his punishment was to be blacklisted by the BBC and have his house robbed. I would like him to receive a full apology and a large sum of money for his troubles.)

The inquiry’s opinion of Bashir and his actions is that he acted carefully and dishonestly

The report states:

What Mr Bashir did was not an impulsive act done on the spur of the moment. It was carefully planned. On his version of the facts, the contents of the fake bank statements came from two separate sources. What he did was devious and dishonest. To dismiss his actions as no more than a mistake, unwise and foolish did not do justice to the seriousness of what he had done (page 114).

The BBC thought they would get away with it

A senior official at the BBC wrote in a note to herself at the time, “The Diana story is probably now dead, unless Spencer speaks. There’s no indication that he will (page 101).” This wording implies that people at the BBC knew that Earl Spencer going on the record about Bashir would dredge up facts that looked bad for Bashir and the BBC, but the BBC was okay with it because they didn’t think Earl Spencer would ever say anything about it. When questioned about this wording by the Dyson inquiry, the BBC official’s response was “He’d gone quiet. He hadn’t said anything. So unless he does—and it was true, wasn’t it? It was true for 25 years (page 101, emphasis mine).”

Conclusion

To conclude, both Bashir and the BBC come off terribly in this report. It’s clear that Bashir is almost a pathological liar and that the BBC thought it was more important to protect itself than to find the truth or take responsibility for its failings.

Both Harry and Will released statements on the findings of the Dyson report, which I will get into in a separate post.

Other random, interesting things:

  • Even after the massive failings on Bashir’s part, he was hired again by the BBC in 2016. He has been on sick leave since last year (the fraud/lying claims re: this interview surfaced last year). Earlier this week, just before the Dyson report was released, Bashir quit his job at the BBC “for medical reasons”.
  • It is noted in this report that Diana and her brother, Earl Spencer, had not met/been in contact for two years before they got together with Bashir to discuss what he had to tell them. This estrangement was the result of Earl Spencer refusing to let Diana move back to her childhood home, Althorp, which had passed to Earl Spencer on his and Diana’s father’s death. The reason provided by Earl Spencer was that the press intrusion surrounding Diana would negatively impact his and his family’s life. Earl Spencer doesn’t mention this when he’s giving paid interviews to the news media about how Diana was hunted to her death.
  • Over and over again in this report, the BBC management team’s excuse for Bashir’s behaviour was “He was an idiot”/”He didn’t know what he was doing”/”He was young”. Would a woman have been given the same latitude after one lie, let alone multiple destructive lies and forgeries?

Please let me know your thoughts on this post in the comments. You can subscribe to my weekly newsletter below, or support me on Square or Patreon. Thanks so much for your support, and for reading. Stay safe, wear a mask, and get vaccinated when it’s your turn!

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10 thoughts on “Princess Diana, Martin Bashir, and the Dyson report

  1. If I am not mistaken, wasn’t Earl Spencer & his family living in South Africa when Diana asked to move home to Althorp? The earl has several reasons to be angry with the BBC, but I have read he also has a grudge against the royal family which allowed him to be manipulated (reasons unknown). Now, he is having to come to terms with consequences of the manipulation (& profiting somewhat from his sister as tourists visit the her childhood home and her Lady of the Lake grave).

    As for Bashir, I wondered how a reporter with no credits landed the ‘interview of the decade,’ and then absconded to America to interview the likes of Michael Jackson. It all seemed like a Hollywood plot. I don’t believe he will be before or behind a camera anytime soon. Besides having a tattered reputation, I heard on NPR, he recently had a quadruple bypass surgery and then contracted Covid-19, so he is out of the reporting game. I do not think he believes he did anything wrong though. This last part annoys me greatly — how can he still believe that he is in the right?

    Thank you for suffering through the report! I chose political science grad school over law school for a reason.😇🤕 Look forward to your take on the princes’ statements — very different tones. (Maybe one has not worked through their anger?) 😁

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Incredible overview RA!

    I do remember watching this interview back in 1995. It was hugely controversial and forced The Queen to send a letter to both Charles and Diana asking them to divorce. I also remember hearing at the time of the “spies in Kensington Palace.” It’s shocking and disturbing that Bashir orchestrated all of this just to cement an interview. I do remember that Diana was estranged from her brother (and most members of her family ie: her mother) because he wouldn’t give her sanctuary at Althorp. It bothered me when he did the press conference in South Africa just after her death and basically declared himself her protector. Who knows, maybe they patched things up by then, but it always seemed that people close to Diana often fell out with her later on (ie: Elton John). I wonder if all the subterfuge around her and Charles’ affairs, along with the paparazzi who would take photos of her while working out at a gym, led her to become more paranoid. Certainly Bashir saw that and fed on her fears.

    It’s sickening that the graphic designer was hung out to dry, but not surprising. That happened a lot back then with people who were not in positions of power, and, it still happens today (ahem..all those people trying to discredit the assistants implicating Meghan in the workplace bullying claims).

    The statements put out by both Princes were interesting. William’s was very powerful and you could feel his anger. He was a close confident to his mother, being only 15 at the time of her death. He would have witnessed her paranoia first hand. I’ve noticed a lot of people pointing out on social media that he kept referring to Diana as “my mother” instead of “our mother.” Well, what else could he do? He knew Harry would make his own statement, and I don’t think he feels he’s in a position to speak on behalf of his brother right now.

    I was surprised at Harry’s statement. It didn’t seem as outraged as his comments are lately about his father not giving him money. You would think he’d be boiling with rage at the injustice done to his mother, but he wasn’t. What makes this more sickening is that Harry is in bed with CBS who, back in 2004, showed photos of a dying Princess Diana in the backseat of that Mercedes. Sorry, but showing those photos and stating it was done in a “journalistic context…and (were) in no way graphic or exploitative” is bull crap.

    For a woman who was literally hunted in her life, it’s gross that, 24 years after her death, she’s still being exploited and not allowed to rest in peace.

    One final thing…this is not an excuse, but Martin Bashir had heart bypass surgery last year and contacted Covid, so his medical leave is legitimate.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for this Lyla, great points! And thank you for the info re: Martin Bashir and his recent medical situations. I’m working on a post about how different Harry and Will’s responses to the Dyson report are, looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

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  3. I love your point about the graphic designer. I wish one of the royal reporters would highlight him so he could get an apology. Thank you for your analysis!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi, before anything, thank you for reading such a long report, and for the analysis. This report will continue to be talked about in the future, since all points out that efforts will be made by William and his uncle Charles Spencer to dig up more on what actually happened here. Now that the report was published, I read that this inquiry started because last year the BBC was celebrating the 25th anniversary of the interview being aired, and that prompted Charles Spencer to come forward, which is a detail I didn’t know.

    Sadly, I’m not surprised about Bashir and the BBC’s past or even current behaviour. I didn’t even have a 100% faith in this inquiry though when it was first announced I did have hope that having a reputable former judge as its leader might shed some light into everything. I’m glad to see the report provides very no-nonsense conclusions. Interviewing Diana after all that had already been published about her life and marriage was the scoop of the decade if not the century, and considering that in those days it wasn’t common for royalty to give interviews (even if the prior year 1994 Charles had given one), it’s not surprising that a type of person like Bashir (and let’s face it, probably some other journalists and other people) would be willing to do anything to secure it and build a career out of it. Same with the BBC, even after the interview aired and the Queen punished them by depriving them of the exclusive rights to air her annual Christmas message, none of that deterred them because they knew they would be able to capitalize this for decades to come, they had beaten the competition big time and didn’t want to admit anything that could jeopardize that.

    The fact that even now Bashir is unable to accept his wrongdoing speaks a great deal of the type of person he is, and of his inmorality. He remains the same unscrupulous individual he was more than 25 years ago, further proved by his attempts to use a dead woman as his fall person. There are now calls to investigate how he secured his Michael Jackson interview, since it also did nothing to help Michael Jackson’s image (though here is hard to believe Michael Jackson wasn’t so messed up by his own childhood that he didn’t do things that he might have thought were normal but were actually the contrary).

    I agreed with you that the graphic designer was the unsung hero of this story, and there were also others that in 1996 tried to get the BBC to look into Bashir’s methods to secure the interview and were punished for it, they should all be compensated. I read that not only the graphic designer’s house was burglarized but another person as well and I just read that it was the house of Panorama producer Mark Killick. This is probably why it’s being said William thinks there is more to this story, and that although the inquiry and the Dyson report are good he thinks the scope of the inquiry was somewhat narrow and he would have liked for the inquiry to be broader, but he will continue speaking with the BBC in private. His uncle Charles Spencer on the other hand, wants Scotland Yard to get involved, who knows if that will get enough traction because there seems to be some base to get the law involved, Fraud and Forgery charges could be made against Bashir. I just read Charles Spencer also thinks Bashir planted a bug at Diana’s KP appartments to then show it to her and prove that she was being spied.

    Speaking of Charles Spencer, the Earl Spencer, I heard before about his estrangement with Diana after he refused to let her move back to Althorp. Diana’s tragic death might have been the gut-punch he needed to make him be less of a dick, since he was also awful to his first wife and mother of his 4 eldest children. It’s true that like Diana, he was also deeply scarred by his parents divorce but that doesn’t excuse his behaviour towards Diana or his first wife Victoria Lockwood. After Diana died he cleaned up his act some, though he still had a second divorce (I don’t know if the details of that marriage are known though), he seems to be doing better in his third marriage but he’s still giving paid interviews and not entoning the mea culpa for his role in his sister stress during her last years.

    Though is true that there is a great chance Diana would have given an interview anyways down the road like Lord Dyson admitted in his report, it’s also true that it probably wouldn’t have been to an unknown like Bashir, who also didn’t have a long career at that moment that could speak of his style and integrity as a serious journalist. Precisely, he made his career out of interviewing her, which is why is sadly not surprising he was willing to go to the extremes that he did since he was expecting for it to pay off and it did. This is why Diana’s sons and brother think that had she not done the interview, the outcome of the last leg of her life might have been different, given that another journalist might have asked different questions, or the timing for the interview might have been another, or her mindset might have been less fraught. It’s very hard to say what could have happened, at the end is just a bunch of “what if”. The amazing thing is that many people seem unable to comprehend this POV and are commenting on the statements made by William and H and twisting their words without understanding what they were trying to say. I look forward to your article about their statements since there are things to say about them and the public reaction to them.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Tina Brown wrote in her Diana biography that Diana came to regret this interview as it had very different consequences than she intended. At the time, the Queen was encouraging Diana and Charles to avoid divorce and try to find a way to lead separate lives. During this period, Diana was spinning a bit out of control and thought this interview would be a good way to send a message to the Royal Family and gain public sympathy for herself — instead, it was the event that convinced the Queen that there must be a divorce and began the untangling of Diana from the Royal Family and the protection it provided.

    I don’t doubt that Diana that Diana wanted to “tell HER truth” (sound familiar?) and this interview was really only her telling on camera much of what she told Andrew Morton, however, without the artificial amplification of her worst fears by Martin Bashir, I’m not sure she would have come in as hot as she did and forced the Queen’s hand.

    At some point prior to her death, Brown writes that she had lunch with Diana and Diana had expressed that she and Charles had found some peace and were getting along much better.

    Liked by 1 person

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