Martin Bashir made his name by persuading reclusive stars to bare their souls and in doing so secured some of the most sensational scoops of his generation.
But the once feted journalist now faces an inquiry into claims by Earl Spencer that he landed his historic 1995 interview with Princess Diana through ‘sheer dishonesty’.
Despite a swirl of controversy around the 57-year-old dating back decades, the BBC sought fit to appoint him to the high-profile role of Religion Editor in 2016.
But over the years Mr Bashir has been accused of ‘preying on the vulnerable’, using techniques in a string of stories which could – and arguably should – have set alarm bells ringing at the Corporation.
Martin Bashir (pictured in 2019) made his name by persuading reclusive stars to bare their souls and in doing so secured some of the most sensational scoops of his generation
To secure a bombshell interview with Michael Jackson in 2003, Mr Bashir allegedly promised the singer that he would organise a trip for the pop star and the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to Africa to help children suffering from AIDS, court transcripts claim.
The TV presenter’s sensational documentary Living With Michael Jackson attracted worldwide publicity after Jackson’s admission that he shared his bed with children.
Yet Jackson maintained he had been duped. Two years later, during the pop star’s trial for alleged child abuse and extortion, Mr Bashir faced intense questioning over his conduct.
Citing California’s ‘shield law’ which protects journalists who refuse to answer questions about their sources or newsgathering, Mr Bashir blanked a series of questions from Jackson’s lawyer.
‘You told him [Jackson] that you were going to arrange a meeting with Kofi Annan… and would plan a trip to Africa with Mr Jackson and Kofi Annan to help African children with AIDS?’ asked the lawyer.
To secure a bombshell interview with Michael Jackson in 2003 (pictured), Mr Bashir allegedly promised the singer that he would organise a trip for the pop star and the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to Africa to help children suffering from AIDS, court transcripts claim
Asked by the judge if he wished to answer, Mr Bashir replied: ‘I don’t, your honour.’
Jackson, who died in 2009, was found not guilty on all 14 counts against him. In 2006, Mr Bashir denied that he had given the singer any assurances. ‘He wasn’t promised anything,’ he insisted.
In 1991, Mr Bashir was working with award-winning reporter Eileen Fairweather on a possible documentary into the ‘Babes in the Wood’ double murders for the BBC’s Public Eye programme.
Five years earlier, Karen Hadaway and Nicola Fellows, both nine, had been found murdered in a park near their homes in Brighton.
Ms Fairweather had met Karen’s bereaved mother Michelle and persuaded her to speak to Mr Bashir.
At the end of a three-hour meeting, Mr Bashir made a highly unusual offer – the BBC would pay for Karen’s bloodied clothes to be DNA tested in a fresh bid to catch the killer.
‘Michelle took us out to the garage and the bloodstained clothes were still in a police evidence bag,’ recalled Ms Fairweather.
‘Martin took them away. I was very surprised. He got in the car and that was the last I ever saw of him. I was shoved off the programme. It was never made.’
The clothes, including a sweatshirt, T-shirt, vest and knickers, were never returned. In 2004, Karen’s family produced a receipt from Mr Bashir for the clothes, but he said he could not recall meeting them or taking the items.
‘He raised their hopes,’ Ms Fairweather said last night. ‘Journalism is a rough old trade but you don’t do that to bereaved parents.’
Martin Bashir’s interview in 1999 with the five men suspected in the murder of Stephen Lawrence won a coveted Royal Television Society award, but the programme provoked controversy
Mr Bashir’s interview in 1999 with the five men suspected in the murder of Stephen Lawrence won a coveted Royal Television Society award, but the programme provoked controversy.
The Mail on Sunday revealed that Granada TV paid for Luke Knight, Gary Dobson, David Norris, Jamie Acourt and his brother Neil to be given a two-week holiday in a £900-a-week Victorian farmhouse in Scotland after their interviews were broadcast on the Tonight With Trevor McDonald programme.
At the time, Granada said it made the arrangement on police advice.
A couple of years later, Mr Bashir ‘misled’ the father of a runaway child prodigy to secure an interview, the Broadcasting Standards Commission ruled.
Sufiah Yusof, a maths genius, went to Oxford aged 13 but ran away two years later, claiming her parents had put too much pressure on her.
She was found safe and well after two weeks and Mr Bashir was the first journalist to gain an interview with the family.
Her father Farooq took part in an episode of Tonight shown in 2001, but the BSC found that the team ‘lulled’ him into a false belief about the content of the programme.
Graham Baldwin of Catalyst Counselling, a charity that helped Mr Yusof, said: ‘We were approached by Martin Bashir who said he would help my client find his daughter and expose the authorities for the way they had treated his family.
But Mr Yusof became suspicious and recorded his conversation with Bashir.’ In fact, the film was highly critical of Mr Yusof. The BSC later ruled that he had been treated unfairly.
Four years after the Jackson interview, Mr Bashir was suspended from ABC’s Nightline programme for crude remarks during a speech to Asian-American journalists.
He told the audience that he was ‘happy to be in the midst of so many Asian babes’, adding: ‘In fact, I’m happy that the podium covers me from the waist down’.
Two years later, he joined MSNBC but resigned in 2013 after comments he made about US politician Sarah Palin caused uproar.
Mr Bashir described her as ‘America’s resident dunce’, before suggesting that someone ought to defecate in her mouth.
Despite that, he was rehired by the BBC in 2016. Last night, a Corporation spokesman said: ‘The post was filled after a competitive interview process.’
But Clare Kirby, the solicitor who represented Mr Yusof in his 2003 complaint, said: ‘Martin Bashir is someone who preys on people at their lowest and most vulnerable. The BBC knew this and yet saw fit to employ him in a senior post.
‘What makes me even more angry is that he is the religion editor. It raises serious questions about the judgment of the BBC.’