How rogue reporter Martin Bashir lured lonely Princess Diana to talk

How Lord Dyson’s report shreds rogue reporter Martin Bashir’s reputation: Devastating six-month investigation lays bare charm, lies and forgeries once-feted Panorama man used to secure his scoop

  • Lord Dyson concluded Martin Bashir lied his way to the BBC’s global Diana scoop
  • The judge said Bashir had deployed deceit to land the November 1995 interview  
  • Bashir gained Diana’s brother Earl Spencer’s interest with forged bank document

Martin Bashir charmed, lied and forged his way to the global scoop that the BBC spent 25 years defending, Lord Dyson concluded.

The former judge’s report yesterday laid bare the depths to which the once-feted reporter had sunk.

And Lord Dyson revealed how squirming Bashir, 58, spun elaborate explanations as he tried to pin blame on Princess Diana.

The retired Master of the Rolls quizzed the BBC’s religion editor as part of his six-month investigation. But at his interview, Bashir could produce no contemporaneous note of his crunch meetings with Earl Spencer, unlike Diana’s brother who gave a detailed account, said Lord Dyson.

In a devastating conclusion, the former judge said: ‘I found Earl Spencer a credible witness… I cannot say the same of Mr Bashir.’ His forensic report picks apart Bashir’s ‘improbable’ version of events:

The Martin Bashir interview with Princess Diana in November 1995, which used mocked up bank statements to get her speak

CHARMER

The judge said it was beyond doubt the young Panorama journalist was an effective and skilled reporter, adding: ‘Anyone who watched the interview with Princess Diana must have been impressed by his qualities as an interviewer. Quietly spoken and gentle, he exuded charm, warmth and, above all, empathy.’

He quoted Panorama reporter Mark Killick, who said: ‘It is a cliche, but he really could charm the birds from the trees.’ But he concluded Bashir had also deployed deceit to land his November 1995 interview with Diana.

Martin Bashir out for a walk with his wife during the BBC Inquiry

BOMBSHELL SMEARS

Bashir’s route to the princess was via her ‘gatekeeper’ brother. He persuaded him to make the introduction, and then peddled vile and slanderous lies about senior royals and courtiers to gain Diana’s interest. But Earl Spencer kept a meticulously note of their 90-minute meeting in September 1995.

Yesterday, despite Bashir’s denials, Lord Dyson declared himself ‘satisfied Mr Bashir said most, if not all’, of the 38 points the earl wrote down. Among them, there were claims Diana’s private correspondence was being opened, her car tracked and phoned tapped, that her bodyguard was plotting against her, and close friends were betraying her.

It was said the Prince of Wales and Tiggy Legge-Bourke, her sons’ nanny, went on a secret holiday and the heir to the throne was ‘in love’ with Miss Legge-Bourke.

Bashir sought to explain Point Seven of Earl Spencer’s notes, which said ‘Difficult relationship with William for D[iana] because of Tiggy. C[harles] is in love with her’, by saying: ‘I cannot imagine anyone would have told the Princess of Wales in their first meeting with her about her own relationship with her son. This must be a comment from the Princess to Earl Spencer.’

The reporter also quibbled with Point Three – about MI6 taping Charles and Richard Aylard, his private secretary, discussing the ‘end game’, and how Diana had ‘told Aylard what she thought of him’ – by saying: ‘Why would I be telling the Princess of Wales what she had told Mr Aylard herself?’

And in response to some of the most preposterous falsehoods, in Point 20 – which said ‘Edward has AIDS? Royal Marsden hospital. Queen ill: heart. Eats for comfort’ – Bashir blamed Diana, telling the inquiry: ‘These matters are consistent with the type of things that the Princess of Wales later told me that her clairvoyant and mystic sources had told her.’

Bashir had earlier gained Earl Spencer’s interest by deceiving him with forged bank statements (pictured) 

But Lord Dyson concluded: ‘I am satisfied Princess Diana had paranoid fears about various things, including that she was being spied on and in danger of her life… By saying some of the things he said at the meeting, he must have been intending to play on her fears.’

He said the princess had later told her lawyer ‘reliable sources’ had warned her ‘efforts would be made to get rid of her’, such as a car accident.

FORGED BANK STATEMENTS

Bashir had earlier gained Earl Spencer’s interest by deceiving him with forged bank statements purporting to show his former head of security Alan Waller had taken money to spy on him.

Timeline of a scandal, how the Mail exposed the truth… 

1986: Martin Bashir joins the BBC as a 23-year-old news correspondent and goes on to work on programmes including Public Eye, Panorama and Songs of Praise.

September 1995: Bashir shows fake bank statements to Earl Spencer, falsely purporting his head of security was receiving payments from papers and MI5 in a bid to arrange a meeting with his sister Princess Diana.

November 20: The famous Panorama interview – where Diana says ‘There were three of us in this marriage’– turns Bashir into TV’s hottest property.

April 1996: The Mail on Sunday reveals claims that Bashir used faked bank documents to get the interview. The BBC holds an internal inquiry – which concludes the journalist was ‘unwise’ to commission the forgeries but was an ‘honest and honourable man’.

2016: The BBC re-hires Bashir as religious affairs correspondent. He is later promoted to the specialist position of Religion Editor.

October 2020: A Channel 4 documentary alleges there was an ‘elaborate plot’ by Bashir to trick Diana into doing the interview.

November 7: The Mail reveals a shocking dossier held by Earl Spencer revealing alleged royal smears, lies and tricks that Bashir used to land his interview.

November 18: The BBC orders a six-month inquiry by former judge Lord Dyson.

May 14, 2021: The BBC announces Bashir has quit on health grounds.

Yesterday: Release of Lord Dyson’s damning report which attacks Bashir’s ‘deceitful behaviour’ and the ‘woefully ineffective’ first investigation led by Lord Hall.

 

Bashir admitted ‘mocking’ them up but also blamed Diana for the fakes – even though the documents were drawn up three weeks before they met. In an extraordinary explanation he claimed she had confessed while he was cooking in her Kensington Palace kitchen.

It is one of the most surreal exchanges during the inquiry. Lord Dyson was trying to get to the bottom of the payments on the fake statements. Bashir had claimed Diana gave him the information about the sums of money.

But the judge challenged him over the fact he had also told the 1996 inquiry that Diana had said ‘in passing’ that the information had not been true.

Asked to explain this, Bashir told Lord Dyson: ‘I was cooking in Kensington Palace, we were chatting about various things, and she said, ‘Oh, by the way, I was wrong about that’ and her source was wrong.’ Lord Dyson asked what was mistaken and Bashir responded: ‘My recollection is that she was basically saying… the whole thing was not true, and, you know, ‘I’m sorry, I made a mistake’.’ The judge says: ‘There were significant parts of Mr Bashir’s account that I reject as incredible, unreliable and, in some cases, dishonest.’

DRIVE TO NEW FOREST

Bashir then claimed he and Diana took a five-hour drive to the New Forest together on their second ever meeting.

According to the BBC reporter, the excursion took place ‘a few days’ after he was first introduced to her on September 19, 1995. During the journey, he claimed Diana gave him the information he used on the forged bank statements.

Bashir claimed she knew of the ‘exact amounts of money’ paid. In his 1996 statement, Bashir said: ‘By now I had developed a close relationship with HRH The Princess of Wales. She mentioned that she had some important information.’

He says Diana told him Prince Charles’s private secretary Mr Aylard had set up a ‘trust fund’ in the Channel Islands used to secretly pay money to her brother’s head of security Alan Waller. But Lord Dyson dismissed this, concluding: ‘I cannot accept Mr Bashir’s evidence that, for no apparent reason, Princess Diana gave him the figures while on a car journey to the New Forest.’

THE GRAPHICS ARTIST

Bashir’s hapless attempts at forgery were exposed by the BBC graphics artist he roped in. Matt Wiessler, who the judge found had acted entirely blamelessly, was phoned by Bashir with an ‘urgent’ job. The reporter asked the artist to mock up two bank statements.

But in a spectacle bordering on absurd, Bashir apparently could not remember what should be written on the supposedly genuine documents. Mr Wiessler said: ‘He kept referring to his notebook, holding it close to his chest and looking as though he were solving the answers to… questions as we went along.’

Lord Dyson said: ‘[Later that night] Mr Wiessler says he called Mr Bashir to say the maths was wrong on one of the statements. The balance did not add up.’

Bashir just told him to correct it – before having the documents couriered to him at Heathrow Airport. Dyson poured scorn on Bashir’s explanations, saying: ‘The idea Mr Bashir would have commissioned the statements in the way he did simply to place them in a file for possible future use does not stand up to scrutiny.’

From left to right: Lord Dyson, the Princess of Wales, Martin Bashir, Earl Spencer and Lord Hall. A report by Lord Dyson into how the Martin Bashir landed the Panorama interview with Diana

MEETING THE PRINCESS

Bashir claimed the first time they met came after Diana invited him to Kensington Palace. He said he asked Earl Spencer if he could speak to his sister, and Diana subsequently called – a claim flatly denied by the earl.

Lord Dyson concluded it was ‘most improbable that Princess Diana would have called Mr Bashir whom she had not previously met and did not know’. Instead he believed Earl Spencer had introduced the pair after being ‘groomed’ by Bashir so ‘he could then get to Diana for the interview he was always secretly after’.

Earl Spencer said Bashir ‘hooked’ him with the false bank statements, but this was just ‘the breadcrumb towards the trapdoor’ of meeting Diana.

BROKE GUIDELINES

Under questioning by the BBC in the aftermath of the interview, Bashir only admitted he had shown the fakes to Earl Spencer at the fourth time of asking. And he had to be asked repeatedly as Lord Dyson tried to pin him down on whether he believed his forgery ruse had broken strict BBC rules.

Richard Ayre, who was controller of editorial policy at the time, told the judge: ‘To use Lord Spencer as a way of getting to the princess by misleading him… lying to him, presenting him with a document which was a forgery – it is clearly completely unacceptable.’

Lord Dyson concluded Bashir had ‘seriously breached’ the BBC’s rules, adding: ‘Mr Bashir is unable to face up to the obvious fact he acted in breach of the requirement of straight dealing.’  

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