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‘No evidence’ Martin Bashir was rehired by BBC in cover-up over Princess Diana interview, review finds

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The theory that Martin Bashir was rehired by the BBC to cover up events surrounding his Panorama interview with Princess Diana is “completely unfounded”, a review has found.

An investigation has concluded that no one involved in Mr Bashir‘s recruitment in 2016 had knowledge of all of the matters contained in the Lord Dyson report released earlier this year, which criticised the methods used by the journalist to secure his bombshell 1995 interview.

The Dyson report had also suggested the BBC had failed to uphold “governance, accountability and scrutiny”.

Diana, Princess of Wales, during her interview with Martin Bashir for the BBC
Image: Bashir’s 1995 interview with Princess Diana made him a household name

Mr Bashir returned to the broadcaster as religion correspondent in 2016, some two decades after the Panorama episode that made him a household name in journalism and 17 years after he originally left for ITV. He was promoted to religion editor in 2018, but quit citing health issues ahead of the Dyson report being published.

The review of his rehiring by Ken MacQuarrie stated: “I have found no evidence that Martin Bashir was re-hired to contain and/or cover up the events surrounding the 1995 Panorama programme. In my view, that theory is entirely unfounded.”

Mr MacQuarrie found that while there were “some shortcomings in the process” by which Mr Bashir was re-employed, “I am satisfied that that he was ultimately appointed because his knowledge and experience were considered to be the best match to the requirements for the role at that time”.

In response to the review’s findings, BBC Director-General Tim Davie said: “While the report finds processes were largely followed at the time, it is clear we need to reflect on the findings to ensure consistent best practice is applied in our recruitment.

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“Finally, it is without doubt that had the organisation been aware of what is now publicly known because of the Dyson Report Martin Bashir would have never been reappointed.”

The Dyson report, published in May, found that Mr Bashir “deceived and induced” Princess Diana’s brother Earl Spencer to secure his interview, and that by producing fake bank statements he made a “serious breach” of BBC guidelines.

Fake bank statements relating to News International and Penfold Consultants (Jersey), as published in an Annex to Lord Dyson's independent investigation into the circumstances around the programme. Issue date: Thursday May 20, 2021.
Image: Fake bank statements were published as part of the Dyson report

In response to the Dyson report, Mr Bashir apologised and said the faking of bank statements was a “stupid thing to do. But in an interview he said he did not believe he harmed Diana “in any way” and stopped short of admitting that he duped the princess.

He told The Sunday Times: “Everything we did in terms of the interview was as she wanted, from when she wanted to alert the palace, to when it was broadcast, to its contents… My family and I loved her.

“I don’t feel I can be held responsible for many of the other things that were going on in her life, and the complex issues surrounding those decisions.”

Prince William has said the BBC’s failures surrounding the interview with his mother “contributed significantly to her fear, paranoia and isolation” – and the episode should never be broadcast again.

Princess Diana with Prince William and Prince Harry in 1995
Image: Prince William and Prince Harry, pictured with Diana in 1995, both spoke out following the publication of the Dyson report

Prince Harry criticised the media following the publication of the Dyson report, saying “practices like these – and even worse – are still widespread today”.

He continued: “Our mother lost her life because of this, and nothing has changed.”

Featuring intimate details of Charles and Diana’s failed marriage and her life inside the Royal Family, Mr Bashir’s interview was watched by 23 million people.

Allegations about counterfeit bank statements shown to Earl Spencer – suggesting palace officials were taking money to spy on her – first surfaced not long after the interview aired. However, a BBC inquiry the following year cleared Mr Bashir of any wrongdoing.

The 2021 Lord Dyson report called the original inquiry “woefully ineffective”, and Earl Spencer said he would never have introduced Bashir to his sister had he not been shown faked documents.

Mr MacQuarrie’s review also looked into Lord Tony Hall, the former director-general of the BBC who led the internal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the Panorama interview, who was heavily criticised by Lord Dyson.

Lord Hall did not play a part in the decision to rehire Mr Bashir, the review found.

“I have seen no evidence to support the idea that there was sign-off of Martin Bashir by Tony Hall prior to the appointment,” Mr MacQuarrie said. “However, I consider that he would have at least known of the decision to appoint Martin Bashir.”

The publication of the latest review comes as Lord Hall and Lord Birt, another former BBC director-general, are set to be questioned by MPs about the Panorama interview.

Ahead of the DCMS (digital, culture, media and sport committee) hearing on Tuesday, DCMS committee chair Julian Knight said he was “deeply concerned” by revelations in the BBC’s report into the decision to rehire Mr Bashir.

“That the BBC considered rehiring Martin Bashir when there were high level doubts over his integrity stretches incredulity to breaking point,” he said. “By this point, as the Dyson report concluded, senior members of the BBC knew that Bashir had lied about the use of faked bank statements to gain access to Princess Diana.

“If the BBC considered him ‘unanimously’ the best candidate, where was the due diligence that should have prevented the corporation from rehiring a former member of staff who had not told a very important truth? Where were senior level discussions?”