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The BBC director-general has said he is “appalled” that clothes of a murdered schoolgirl were taken by Martin Bashir and never returned to her family.
Michelle Hadaway says the journalist obtained the clothes for DNA testing for BBC Two’s Public Eye programme 30 years ago, but the investigation did not air and her calls to the broadcaster were ignored.
Ms Hadaway’s daughter Karen and her friend Nicola Fellows were found sexually assaulted and strangled in a woodland den in Brighton in October 1986 in what became known as the Babes in the Wood murders.
BBC director-general Tim Davie told MPs: “I think the first thing to say is we are extremely sorry for the distress this has caused Miss Hadaway.
“It’s very distressing that we haven’t been able to give her answers in terms of what happened to that clothing.
“I’m appalled that it got lost, I’m appalled by it and it’s a serious issue, a very serious issue.”
The families of the two girls spent decades fighting for justice after their killer, Russell Bishop, was initially found not guilty of their murders in 1987.
Ms Hadaway previously said Mr Bashir came to her in 1991 and asked to have her daughter’s clothing DNA tested, saying that science had advanced in the five years since the murders, but never returned the clothes.
Mr Davie said it was important to note that police said the issue had “no material impact whatsoever on the investigation then or later”.
He added: “Having said that, it’s a very serious issue for the BBC.”
Mr Davie also said it was incorrect to say the BBC investigations unit in 2004 did not make contact with key individuals who might have known where the clothing was.
He added: “I want to find out if there’s any loose ends or any more we can do in terms of finding this clothing, and stop this distress.”
The BBC is now conducting a review of the case in a fresh bid to try to locate the clothing and an investigator has spoken to Mr Bashir, he continued.
Asked what Mr Bashir, who has since left the BBC, had to say, Mr Davie replied: “He doesn’t know where the clothes are.”
The executive said the BBC will examine all new evidence to try to find the whereabouts of the clothing, but added: “For the moment I think we’ve got a case of just someone who gave some clothes to someone and this person just cannot remember where they are. That’s where we are.”
Julian Knight MP told Mr Davie he considers this case to be “infinitely more serious” than that of Diana, Princess of Wales, who was found to have been deceived by Mr Bashir ahead of her Panorama interview with him.
Lord Dyson’s blistering report criticised the methods used by Mr Bashir to obtain his exclusive 1995 interview with the princess.
Asked if there is anything that can be done about Mr Bashir in terms of his BBC pension, Mr Davie said: “The legal advice we’ve got is we can’t do anything with the pension. So I think at this point, that’s where we’re at.”