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Princess Diana’s brother Earl Spencer told BBC chief he had damning Bashir dossier 17 years ago

Princess Diana’s brother warned BBC bosses 17 years ago that disgraced reporter Martin Bashir used underhand tactics to land his bombshell Panorama interview – but was ignored, a newly unearthed document reveals.

An explosive letter released under Freedom of Information laws reveals that in 2005 – ten years after the notorious interview – Earl Spencer warned the BBC that he had a dossier detailing Bashir’s deceit.

The letter was addressed to a BBC producer but, crucially, a copy was also sent to Mark Thompson, the Corporation’s then director-general. 

Princess Diana’s brother warned BBC bosses 17 years ago that disgraced reporter Martin Bashir used underhand tactics to land his bombshell Panorama interview – but was ignored

Astonishingly, no one from the BBC acted on the warning and the true extent of Bashir’s wrongdoing remained hidden for a further 15 years until the Daily Mail revealed the full details of the dossier.

Indeed, just four months after receiving Earl Spencer’s letter, the BBC broadcast a self-congratulatory documentary about Bashir’s scoop in which it was lauded as ‘a stunning piece of television’.

The Mail on Sunday understands the letter was not disclosed to Lord Dyson, the former Supreme Court Judge who published a damning report into the scandal in May last year. 

Earl Spencer (pictured) warned the BBC that he had a dossier detailing Bashir’s deceit

Earl Spencer (pictured) warned the BBC that he had a dossier detailing Bashir’s deceit

A source at the Corporation said it had not been found at the time of his independent inquiry.

‘It’s astonishing to learn that – 15 years before the scandal broke – the BBC were fully aware that Earl Spencer had a dossier of highly compromising evidence and was more than willing to share it,’ said Andy Webb, an investigative filmmaker who helped lift the lid on the Bashir scandal.

‘What’s deeply disturbing is that this letter from Earl Spencer has lain in the BBC files all this time. If they did not reveal it to Lord Dyson what else may they still be hiding?’

The revelation is the latest extraordinary twist in one of the biggest scandals to hit the BBC. 

The letter was addressed to a BBC producer but, crucially, a copy was also sent to Mark Thompson, the Corporation’s then director-general

The letter was addressed to a BBC producer but, crucially, a copy was also sent to Mark Thompson, the Corporation’s then director-general

Bashir showed Earl Spencer forged bank statements to gain access to the Princess and then tricked her by peddling a string of lies, including lurid claims about Queen Elizabeth, King Charles, Prince Edward and senior courtiers.

BBC bosses knew soon after the Panorama interview aired in 1995 that there were questions over Bashir’s tactics but he was cleared after what Lord Dyson later called a ‘woefully ineffective’ internal investigation.

Lord Dyson said Lord Hall, who was then head of news and current affairs, and fellow BBC boss Anne Sloman made a ‘big mistake’ by failing to interview Earl Spencer about Bashir’s approaches.

Bashir left the BBC in 1999 but he was rehired as religion correspondent in 2016, despite allegations about the methods he used to obtain the Diana interview and concerns over his conduct at ITV and in America, where he had worked for ABC and NBC. He was later promoted to religion editor.

In July 2005, Arena, a BBC documentary series, was preparing an hour-long episode to mark the ten-year anniversary of Bashir’s interview with Diana

In July 2005, Arena, a BBC documentary series, was preparing an hour-long episode to mark the ten-year anniversary of Bashir’s interview with Diana

In July 2005, Arena, a BBC documentary series, was preparing an hour-long episode to mark the ten-year anniversary of Bashir’s interview with Diana. 

Samantha Peters, a producer at Arena, wrote to Earl Spencer to ask whether he would agree to an interview. 

He declined, saying: ‘Based on the documents I have at Althorp [his ancestral home] – including notes I took at the time in my own hand – which prove Panorama’s role in this matter to have been less than honest, I must register my astonishment that the BBC wishes to revisit this moment in its fine journalist history.’

Making clear that he was also alerting Mr Thompson to his concerns, he added: ‘I am copying this letter to your director-general, so he can learn the truth about Panorama’s methods a decade ago, if they are of interest to him now.’

Bashir left the BBC in 1999 but he was rehired as religion correspondent in 2016, despite allegations about the methods he used to obtain the Diana interview and concerns over his conduct at ITV and in America, where he had worked for ABC and NBC

Bashir left the BBC in 1999 but he was rehired as religion correspondent in 2016, despite allegations about the methods he used to obtain the Diana interview and concerns over his conduct at ITV and in America, where he had worked for ABC and NBC

His warning was a clear reference to the bombshell dossier that he had retained, which showed how Bashir had peddled 32 jaw-dropping smears to clinch his interview, including fabricated claims that Royal nanny Tiggy Legge-Bourke was having an affair with Charles.

The Mail on Sunday understands that no attempt was made to contact Earl Spencer.

Instead, in November 2005, the BBC broadcast its Arena documentary and showed the Panorama interview again. 

The programme included footage of Bashir winning a Bafta for the interview, and Steve Hewlett, the former editor of Panorama, calling the interview ‘a career moment’.

Earl Spencer's warning was a clear reference to the bombshell dossier that he had retained, which showed how Bashir had peddled 32 jaw-dropping smears to clinch his interview, including fabricated claims that Royal nanny Tiggy Legge-Bourke (centre) was having an affair with Charles

Earl Spencer’s warning was a clear reference to the bombshell dossier that he had retained, which showed how Bashir had peddled 32 jaw-dropping smears to clinch his interview, including fabricated claims that Royal nanny Tiggy Legge-Bourke (centre) was having an affair with Charles

In 2021, BBC reporter John Ware claimed Mr Hewlett only agreed to be interviewed by Arena if they did not ask him about the bank statements. 

Ware claimed Mr Hewlett, who died in 2017, was asked about how Bashir met Diana but his faltering response was not broadcast.

Ms Peters and Mr Thompson declined to comment last night.

The BBC said: ‘We commissioned an independent, judge-led investigation into the circumstances under which the interview was procured after Earl Spencer came forward to the BBC with new evidence in November 2020. We accepted Lord Dyson’s findings in full and made an unreserved apology the day his report was published.’

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