The BBC has appointed one of Britain’s most decorated former judges ‘to get to the truth’ about whether Martin Bashir conned Princess Diana into their notorious 1995 Panorama interview – and if his bosses covered any dirty tricks up.
Lord Dyson, former Master of the Rolls who also stood as a Justice of the Supreme Court, has said he will start his inquiry ‘straight away’ by interviewing corporation staff and having access to available records.
He also promised Mr Bashir a ‘thorough and fair’ investigation following sensational claims the journalist secured the Princess of Wales’s trust by faking two bank statements.
The BBC approved Lord Dyson’s appointment this afternoon after new Director General Tim Davie ordered an independent inquiry into allegations Mr Bashir fed Diana a string of lies and smears to obtain his 1995 exclusive interview with her.
Lord Dyson will also probe how much BBC bosses knew at the time and whether there was a cover-up and said today: ‘This is an important investigation which I will start straight away. I will ensure it is both thorough and fair’.
Mr Davie added: ‘The BBC is determined to get to the truth about these events and that is why we have commissioned an independent investigation. Formerly Master of the Rolls and a Justice of the Supreme Court, Lord Dyson is an eminent and highly respected figure who will lead a thorough process.’
Retired judge Lord Dyson (left) will run the independent inquiry into whether Martin Bashir used dirty tricks to con Princess Diana into the 1995 Panorama interview. Mr Bashir won a Bafta for the show (right)
Diana, Princess of Wales, during her world exclusive Panorama interview with Bashir for the BBC, November 20 1995
The five key areas the BBC inquiry into the Martin Bashir scandal will cover
Lord Dyson has been asked to investigate and report back on five key areas.
He will interview BBC staff and have access to all their records.
1. What steps did the BBC and in particular Martin Bashir take with a view to obtaining the Panorama interview on 20 November 1995 with Diana, Princess of Wales? This will involve a consideration of all the relevant evidence including (i) the mocked up bank statements purporting to show payments to a former employee of Earl Spencer (ii) the purported payments to members of the Royal Households; and (iii) the other matters recently raised by Earl Spencer not limited to the matters published in the Daily Mail on 7 November 2020.
2. Were those steps appropriate, having regard in particular to the BBC’s editorial standards prevailing at the time?
3. To what extent did the actions of the BBC and in particular Martin Bashir influence Diana, Princess of Wales’s decision to give an interview?
4. What knowledge did the BBC have in 1995 and 1996 of the relevant evidence referred to at paragraph 1 above?
5. Having regard to what was known at the time of its investigation in 1995 and 1996, how effectively did the BBC investigate the circumstances leading to the interview?
Bashir, who is now religion editor at the BBC, is currently signed off from work.
A statement from the corporation said: ‘He is currently recovering from quadruple heart bypass surgery and has significant complications from having contracted Covid-19 earlier in the year.’
Veteran BBC royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell is among the journalists expected to appear before the inquiry having been ‘deeply disturbed’ by their colleague’s alleged dirty tactics.
Mr Witchell, 67, who worked on Panorama in the 1990s, and several other senior BBC staff are said to have been ‘deeply disturbed’ by claims Mr Bashir allegedly spun an outlandish web of deceit to win Diana’s trust – and secure the bombshell interview.
The BBC’s current royal correspondent had even arranged to meet Diana to discuss a TV interview about the changing role of the monarchy and how her children William and Harry would fit in.
The plan was ‘put on ice’ when Mr Witchell was sent away on assignment and promoted diplomatic correspondent – but it was handed to Mr Bashir who is alleged to have used unscrupulous tactics to secure the interview.
Mr Witchell is said to have been ‘furious’ when Mr Bashir’s alleged deceit emerged, and is now set to give evidence to the inquiry into it, according to the Daily Telegraph.
Michael Jackson was lured into his disastrous interview with Martin Bashir because he thought ‘if Princess Diana trusted him, [he] could too’, it was claimed yesterday.
The pop star’s lawyer said Jackson would never have done the documentary with Bashir unless he believed it would be ‘positive’.
The 2003 expose turned into a public relations disaster for the troubled singer and culminated in him facing child molestation charges in 2005.
Tom Mesereau, who successfully defended the musician at the trial, claimed Jackson – who died in 2009 – had told him the journalist promised to portray him positively like the famous Diana interview.
The journalist was seen returning home this month carrying an Indian takeaway and wine. Mr Bashir, 57, the BBC’s religious affairs editor, has not responded to requests for comment.
In February 1996 Bashir was feted at the Royal Television Society’s annual journalism awards ceremony for the interview that made headlines around the world
Top British retired judge chosen to lead BBC’s Bashir inquiry once called Boris Johnson a risk-taker who ‘chances his arm’ in love child case
Lord Dyson was Master of the Rolls – the name Britain’s top Court of Appeal judge – for four years until he retired in October 2016.
Famously in 2013 he ruled that the public had the right to know about the Prime Minister’s love child has now described him as a risk taker who ‘chances his arm’.
Lord Dyson was one of three judges who decided that the press had the right to reveal that Boris Johnson had fathered a daughter outside of his marriage.
The judges rejected an argument from Helen Macintyre, Mr Johnson’s former lover and the mother of the child, that the girl’s existence should be kept secret.
He was a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom from April 2010 until October 2012.
And before that he was a Lord Justice of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales from 2001 until 2010 after stints at the High Court.
Lord Dyson was called to the Bar by the Middle Temple in 1968.
From his office in Los Angeles, Mr Mesereau told the Sunday Telegraph: ‘I have always been troubled by how Mr Bashir managed to get into Michael Jackson’s graces and gain his trust. He thought if Princess Diana trusted him, Michael could too. Michael told me he was led to believe this would be a very positive interview, and he trusted Mr Bashir to follow through [with this] but he was greatly disappointed.’
The British journalist spent eight months with the Thriller star before making the ITV documentary ‘Living with Michael Jackson,’ in which the entertainer admitted sharing his bed with children.
Bashir and former BBC chiefs are now facing an inquiry into a string of lies and smears he fed Diana to obtain his 1995 exclusive interview with her.
Yesterday former director-general Lord Hall welcomed his successor Tim Davie’s decision to commission the ‘robust and independent’ investigation.
Lord Hall was head of news when Diana gave her interview, and he presided over an inquiry at the time that was dubbed a ‘whitewash’.
But he told the Sunday Times he was ‘pleased’ allegations Bashir used dishonest methods would be investigated, adding: ‘I want these things to be looked at.’ There is also a growing clamour for a police investigation, after the BBC acknowledged Bashir had shown ‘mocked up’ bank statements to Earl Spencer when trying to persuade him to introduce him to his sister Diana.
Former police officers including Dai Davies, ex head of royal protection, say Scotland Yard should run the new probe. And Peter Bleksley, a founder member of Scotland Yard’s undercover unit, backed the idea yesterday, saying: ‘They have to establish criminal intent. Was there an intention to trick someone or persuade someone to do something because of these documents?
Earl Spencer is absolutely crucial to any criminal inquiry because he may be the person who was coerced into doing something. There would have to be some kind of financial advantage proven.’
The innocent graphics designer who unwittingly helped Bashir create the phoney bank statements – and was fired while Bashir collected awards – believes the BBC journalist’s historic interview helped set her on a fateful path culminating in her death.
At her funeral, Matt Wiessler stood in The Mall. He said: ‘I felt like I needed to pay my respects because somehow I contributed.’
Matt Wiessler, who was sacked from the BBC after details of his role in making the bank statements emerged. Mr Bashir is the BBC’s religious affairs editor
Bashir clinched his access to the princess via her brother, Earl Spencer, who says the journalist showed him copies of bank statements (pictured) which purported to be from the private account of his head of security, Alan Waller. They apparently showed – falsely – that he was receiving money from a newspaper group and a mysterious offshore company
BBC veteran Jonathan Dimbleby, one of the targets of Bashir’s smears, welcomed the inquiry yesterday, describing the Panorama affair as ‘the bizarre and awful story of Martin Bashir’s insinuating himself into the confidence of a troubled woman’. He said getting an interview ‘should never involve deception and lies’.
Mr Bashir, 57, the BBC’s religious affairs editor, has not responded to requests for comment.
Lord who melted before the Queen
Lord Dyson was one of the country’s top judges.
He moved through the ranks to become Master of the Rolls, the most senior civil law judge, before his retirement four years ago.
His stern judicial front, however, melted away before the Queen.
Lord Dyson, 77, described in the autobiography he published after he quit the bench how he was mesmerised at a meeting with Her Majesty.
‘She was most gracious and far more beautiful than I had expected,’ he wrote. ‘I was totally disarmed and charmed by her. After about ten minutes, she rose and pressed a bell. Almost immediately, the door opened and I left the room. I was soon restored to the real world and it was all over.’
His wife Jacqueline ‘asked me numerous questions about what Her Majesty had said, what the room looked like, and above all what she was wearing. My answers were lacking in detail and, so far as Jacqueline was concerned, deeply unsatisfactory. Everything had happened so quickly and my mind was in a state of blur. If only I could have told my grandmother, Malvine, about this experience.’ He wrote of meeting the Queen on another occasion: ‘I wonder what my mother and grandmother, both of whom were starry-eyed about our Royal Family, would have made of all of this.’
His sympathy for the Queen’s troubles extended to her need to keep an eye on the teaspoons. He wrote of a royal garden party where ‘she allowed some people who were not Royal Tent guests to come into the tent to shelter from the rain’. Lord Dyson added: ‘She told us that, when they had left, some of the gold-plated teaspoons had disappeared. ‘Rather disappointing’, she said.’
Lord Dyson, who has been married since 1970 and has two children, regards his Jewish background as central to his identity. He spent much of his legal career dealing with commercial and sports law.
Since his retirement he has continued to work as an arbitrator, most notably in the case of the Saracens rugby club and its payroll scandal, which involved breaches of the players’ salary cap. However, he has little experience of the sometimes disorderly world of the media.