The BBC’s new director-general has promised to ‘get to the truth’ behind Princess Diana’s Panorama interview.
Tim Davie’s vow came as former chairman Lord Grade said there was ‘a very dark cloud’ hanging over the corporation, following sensational claims about how journalist Martin Bashir secured Diana’s trust.
He is said to have played on the princess’s paranoia, selling her a tissue of lies about the Queen’s health, Prince Charles being ‘in love’ with nanny Tiggy Legge-Bourke and Diana’s own staff betraying her to MI5 and the newspapers.
Following calls for a police probe – and with those smeared by Mr Bashir poised to sue – Mr Davie moved to quell the growing storm.
The BBC’s new director-general has promised to ‘get to the truth’ behind Princess Diana’s Panorama interview conducted by then 32-year-old reporter Martin Bashir (pictured)
‘The BBC is taking this very seriously and we want to get to the truth,’ he said. ‘We are in the process of commissioning a robust and independent investigation. The recent stories have highlighted some concerning issues. The BBC must hold ourselves to the gold standard of journalism.’
The corporation exonerated itself of any wrongdoing at an initial inquiry in 1996 – one year after the Panorama interview.
The BBC had insisted it was not possible to revisit the matter without fresh evidence and the help of Mr Bashir, 57, who is ‘seriously unwell’ after undergoing heart bypass surgery and contracting Covid.
However, it is believed that Mr Bashir – photographed last Friday walking home after visiting a takeaway and a wine shop – is now set to take part in a second probe. A source said: ‘The new inquiry will look at absolutely all the available evidence, it will speak to all the protagonists, and that must include Martin Bashir.’
Besieged journalist Martin Bashir arrives at his £2million home in London after a visit to an Indian takeaway and a wine shop – despite the BBC insisting he is too ill to answer questions over the ‘web of deceit’ he allegedly spun to clinch his Panorama interview with Princess Diana
Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s The World At One, Lord Grade said of the scandal: ‘We have got to get into the timeline – who knew what, when? The real question is, did they breach all the ethics of journalism, which they appear to have done?’
The 1996 probe focused on the use of fake bank statements to gain Diana’s trust. It was effectively ended by a handwritten letter from the princess, which supposedly said she was happy with Mr Bashir’s conduct. This letter has since been lost.
Lord Grade asked yesterday: ‘Was the Diana letter also a forgery? We don’t know, because it’s disappeared, conveniently.
‘I hope it was real, but that doesn’t absolve the BBC… to be faking documents in the interests of getting scoops raises very serious questions.’
Millions watched the Princess say ‘there are three of us in this marriage’ in her famous Panorama interview 25 years ago
Last week, Diana’s brother Earl Spencer gave the Mail an extraordinary insight into Mr Bashir’s methods, using notes he kept of a meeting with him and Diana in September 1995.
Mr Bashir had reeled off a string of lies about people betraying her, the earl said. He dismissed Mr Bashir as a fantasist – but Diana stayed in touch with the journalist, leading to the historic Panorama interview two months later.
The earl chose to speak out, having learned just two weeks ago that there had been a cover-up at the BBC.
After years of rejecting demands for documents under the Freedom of Information Act, claiming they did not exist, the corporation suddenly stumbled across 67 pages following a request from a Channel 4 reporter.
Memos and minutes from 1995 and 1996 suggest a series of managers, including Lord Hall – Mr Davie’s predecessor as director-general, then BBC head of news – were involved in hushing up the scandal.
Matt Wiessler, a graphic artist who produced the fake bank statements for Mr Bashir, was sacked in the aftermath. His flat was later burgled – and two floppy disks containing the forgeries were stolen.
Lord Grade said: ‘There is a very dark cloud hanging over BBC journalism as a result of the questions raised by Earl Spencer, Channel 4 and the Daily Mail, and this needs to be cleared up.’
Mr Bashir halted filming and helped Diana formulate her comments about her lover James Hewitt, a documentary reveals.
Cameraman Tony Poole said that when asked whether she was unfaithful, the princess ‘didn’t quite know how to phrase her answer’.
He added: ‘We stopped recording and, after some discussion, she was then happy.’ Mr Bashir and a producer ‘helped her phrase an appropriate answer’, Mr Poole said.
In the final edit, Panorama saw Diana famously say of Mr Hewitt: ‘Yes, I adored him. Yes, I was in love with him.’ The Diana Interview: Revenge Of A Princess is on ITV1 tonight at 9pm.