Martin Bashir blamed racism for Princess Diana interview fallout

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Martin Bashir interviews Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1995
Martin Bashir interviews Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1995

Martin Bashir claimed racism and professional jealousy were behind accusations that he used forged documents to help secure his 1995 Panorama interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, newly released files show.

The former BBC reporter said in an internal email that colleagues did not like the fact that “a second-generation immigrant of non-white, working-class roots” had secured the scoop, and that it would have been “easier if one of the dynastic families” such as the Dimblebys had got it.

Mr Bashir emailed Robert Seatter, the BBC’s head of history, in July 2020 dismissing what he described as “this so-called ‘forgery’ story” after documentary maker Andy Webb submitted a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to the corporation about how the interview was secured.

In the months after the interview was broadcast, it transpired that Mr Bashir had arranged for mock-ups of bank documents to be made, which purported to show members of the Princess’s staff receiving payments from the media.

At the time, he said he had not used the forgeries, and that he had not shown them to anyone, but Mr Webb believed he had been lying and asked the BBC to release documents about the programme.

The Princess's interview on Panorama was seen as a huge coup for the former BBC reporter
The Princess's interview on Panorama was seen as a huge coup for the former BBC reporter

In the same month that Mr Webb made his request, Mr Seatter contacted Mr Bashir asking him for a short statement on the matter as he had received a request to release an archive interview that mentioned “a forgery story”.

In his reply – now released under a separate FoI request by Mr Webb – Mr Bashir wrote: “In the first instance, I would wish to respond to you privately and in confidence. I am sorry to hear that this so-called ‘forgery’ story has reared its head again. It played no part in the interview but did allow professional jealousy, particularly within the corporation, to hang its hat on alleged wrongdoing.

“At the time, it was also apparent that there was some irritation that a second-generation immigrant of non-white, working-class roots should have the temerity to enter a Royal Palace and conduct an interview.

“It would have been so much easier if one of the dynastic families (Dimbleby et al) had done it!”

In October 2020, just 48 hours before the transmission of a Channel 4 documentary by Mr Webb about the Princess Diana interview, the BBC sent Mr Webb an internal report from 1996 alleging that Mr Bashir had been supplied with the raw data for the forged bank statements by the Princess’s brother, Earl Spencer.

It did not, however, share with him an eight-page document which later came to light which showed that the BBC knew in 1996 that Mr Bashir was a proven liar. Mr Webb believes this shows that as recently as 2020, senior BBC executives were still covering up what happened in 1995.

‘Outraged’

Lord Spencer said in 2020 that he was “outraged” at the false suggestion that he had shown Mr Bashir the original bank statements on which the forgeries were based. The truth, he said, was that Mr Bashir had shown him the forgeries when he was trying to secure the interview with the Princess.

Later that year, Lord Dyson, the former Supreme Court Justice, was asked to investigate the affair, and in 2021 he published a report in which he said Mr Bashir had used “deceitful behaviour” by forging the bank statements and showing them to Lord Spencer, and that the BBC had covered up what it knew about Mr Bashir’s behaviour in the 1990s.

Mr Webb is trying to get to the bottom of what he calls “the cover-up of the cover-up” in 2020, and on Tuesday the BBC released more than 10,000 pages of documents to him in response to an FoI request originally submitted in 2021.

But a large number of documents have been redacted in full, meaning Mr Webb will have to launch an appeal to the Information Commissioner if he is to stand any chance of seeing the most sensitive documents.

They include an email sent on Nov 11 2020 by Mr Seatter to BBC lawyer Peter de Val, which has the subject: “RE: Diana Panorama: amended minute?” but which has been withheld under “legal privilege”.

Another email, sent on Nov 18 2020 from Tim Davie, the BBC’s director-general, to Phil Harrold, the BBC company secretary and chief of staff, is also redacted in full. It was on that date that Lord Dyson was appointed to chair the inquiry into the Panorama affair.

The BBC has so far spent more than £150,000 on external legal advice alone in its attempt to avoid handing over the documents.

Martin Bashir rejoined the BBC in 2016 as a religious affairs correspondent
Martin Bashir rejoined the BBC in 2016 as a religious affairs correspondent

Mr Bashir rejoined the BBC in 2016 as a religious affairs correspondent, and claimed in his letter to Mr Seatter that senior staff in the then Prince of Wales’s office (now the King) had “expressed their gratitude for my declining of all requests to discuss the interview”.

He added: “As I am sure you will understand, the words of the late Princess have been deployed to attack surviving members of the Royal family – particularly the Prince of Wales – something that I have never wanted to do.

“Some day – who knows when (!) – I will need to look back and reflect upon a career that included but hope was not wholly defined by a single interview.

“For that I’ll need to work hard at recollection.”

‘Findings accepted in full’

A BBC spokesman said: “There is nothing to support the allegations that the BBC acted in bad faith in 2020 and we maintain this suggestion is simply wrong...

“Further, as has been said many times, far from attempting to conceal or cover up matters, the BBC commissioned Lord Dyson to conduct an independent investigation so that he could gain a full picture of what happened in 1995 – including by obtaining any additional materials that people other than the BBC might possess.

“The BBC provided all relevant documentation that was in the BBC’s possession to the Lord Dyson inquiry. Other individuals involved in these events also supplied Lord Dyson with written materials, which are detailed in the report. This was published in 2021 and the findings accepted in full by the BBC.”

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