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).”
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?
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