The BBC has offered an unconditional apology after a report found a prominent journalist used “deceitful” methods to secure a landmark interview with Princess Diana as her marriage broke down.
BBC journalist Martin Bashir conducted the career-defining interview with Diana in 1995, in which she detailed her breakdown of her relationship with Prince Charles.
The report, written by former judge Lord Dyson, found that Bashir had shown fake bank statements to Diana’s brother Charles Spencer, which “deceived and induced him to arrange a meeting with Princess Diana.”
“By gaining access to Princess Diana in this way, Mr Bashir was able to persuade her to agree to give the interview,” the report notes, adding that this behavior was in breach of BBC guidelines.
BBC Director-General Tim Davie said Thursday the interview “fell far short of what audiences have a right to expect.”
“While the BBC cannot turn back the clock after a quarter of a century, we can make a full and unconditional apology. The BBC offers that today,” Davie said.
Bashir has long been alleged to have used forged documents that suggested the palace staff were working against Princess Diana and being paid to spy on her.
Matt Wiessler, a former graphic designer for the BBC, said he mocked up false bank statements after Bashir reached out to him.
Thursday’s report found that Bashir also likely created another set of fake bank statements, which he again showed to Spencer.
The 1995 interview was a seismic moment in British public life. During the event, Diana told Bashir that there were “three of us” in her marriage to Charles, referring to Camilla Parker Bowles, whom the heir to the throne would later marry.
Buckingham Palace was blindsided by the interview and thrown into crisis by Diana’s comments, which cast a rare light on the inner workings of the royal family.
The broadcaster launched an internal inquiry in 1996 and concluded that documents had been forged but didn’t play a role in Diana’s decision to participate in the interview.
The report is critical of both Bashir’s behavior and of the way the 1996 probe was carried out by the BBC.
It concludes that “without justification” the BBC “covered up… facts as it had been able to establish about how Mr Bashir secured the interview.”
The BBC’s former director-general Tony Hall, who was in charge of news and current affairs at the time of the controversy, said Thursday that he was “wrong to give Martin Bashir the benefit of the doubt,” according to PA Media news agency.
Last week Bashir stepped down from his role as the BBC’s religion editor, citing health reasons.
The BBC’s investigative current affairs show Panorama — the same program which featured the 1995 interview — will air a documentary on the controversy on Thursday.
The program will examine the inside story of how Bashir obtained the interview, and how the BBC responded when it discovered he had faked bank statements and shown them to Earl Spencer.