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Watch: Princess Diana interview: Earl Spencer shares family photo hours before release of report into explosive BBC chat
BBC reporter Martin Bashir used "deceitful behaviour" to secure a Panorama interview with Princess Diana in 1995, a new investigation has found.
The BBC opened a fresh inquiry into the interview more than 25 years after it first aired after Earl Spencer, Diana's brother, raised questions about methods used by Bashir to get Diana to agree to the programme.
The programme became known for one of Diana's most famous statements - that there were "three people" in her marriage to Charles, after revelations about his affair with Camilla.
The BBC has sent letters of apology to Prince Charles, Prince William, Prince Harry and Earl Spencer.
It will return all awards associated with the programme, including a 1996 Bafta.
Earl Spencer said Bashir had faked bank statements which he showed to the earl in order to get access to the princess.
The earl said the statements related to his sister’s former private secretary Patrick Jephson, and another former royal household member, and that Bashir made claims that Diana's phone lines were bugged.
A £1.4m report released on Thursday found that Bashir used "deceitful behaviour" to get to the earl, who then introduced him to the princess.
It also said Bashir had been "devious and dishonest", saying his actions had been "carefully planned".
However the report, by Lord Dyson, has concluded that Diana may have done the interview anyway because she was keen on the idea by mid-1995.
It suggests she might have chosen to talk to Nicholas Witchell, rather than Bashir, who at that time was relatively unknown. Witchell at the time was a diplomatic correspondent, and is now BBC royal correspondent.
Witchell was lined up in early stages to interview her, but was swapped for Bashir by then editor Steve Hewlett, who died in 2017. The interview would likely have focussed around her role and her work.
Bashir released an apology after the report became public, saying it was the "second time" he had "willingly fully co-operated with an investigation" into the programme.
Bashir said in a statement: “I apologised then, and I do so again now, over the fact that I asked for bank statements to be mocked up.
"It was a stupid thing to do and was an action I deeply regret. But I absolutely stand by the evidence I gave a quarter of a century ago, and again more recently."
He said the statements had "no bearing whatsoever on the personal choice by Princess Diana to take part in the interview".
He said: "In fact, despite his other findings, Lord Dyson himself in any event accepts that the princess would probably have agreed to be interviewed without what he describes as my ‘intervention’.
“It is saddening that this single issue has been allowed to overshadow the princess’ brave decision to tell her story, to courageously talk through the difficulties she faced, and, to help address the silence and stigma that surrounded mental health issues all those years ago.
"She led the way in addressing so many of these issues and that’s why I will always remain immensely proud of that interview.”
The BBC's first report into the programme was carried out in 1996, but failed to interview Earl Spencer, who was part of this investigation.
Earl Spencer said he had declined to talk to the Mail On Sunday when they discovered the forged bank statements in 1996, but on the basis that he was trying to settle into a more anonymous life in South Africa, where he had moved with his then wife and four children.
In this report, the earl says he has respect for the BBC, and though he would have asked Diana about it, he probably would have given them evidence in 1996. However it criticises those in charge at the time for not even trying to reach him.
After the report was released, he tweeted: "I'd like to thank the TV journalist Andy Webb for his tireless professionalism in bringing the Bashir-Panorama-BBC scandal to light. If he hadn’t have pursued this story for well over a decade, and shared his findings with me last October, today’s findings wouldn’t have surfaced."
Diana wrote a letter to the BBC defending the interview and confirming she had not seen the bank statements, saying she was happy with how it had gone, with no regrets.
While there was suspicion about the authenticity of the note, royal lawyers at Harbottle and Lewis have confirmed to this inquiry that the letter in the BBC records is likely to be genuine.
The report also details what happened when the letter went missing, saying that someone was asked to guard the letter "with their life" and subsequently took it home for safekeeping.
It was found in November 2020 when the story emerged that it was missing from BBC property.
The letter reads: "Martin Bashir did not show me any documents, nor give me any information that I was not previously aware of. I consented to the interview on Panorama without any undue pressure and have no regrets concerning the matter."
It was signed by Diana.
Lord Dyson, the former master of the rolls and head of civil justice, was appointed to carry out the new investigation. An inquiry in 1996 was run by former director-general Lord Tony Hall.
As the report was released, Lord Hall said his report "fell well short of what was required" and he was "wrong to give Martin Bashir the benefit of the doubt".
In a statement to the PA news agency, he said: "I have read Lord Dyson’s report, and I accept that our investigation 25 years ago into how Panorama secured the interview with Princess Diana fell well short of what was required.
"In hindsight, there were further steps we could and should have taken following complaints about Martin Bashir’s conduct.
"I was wrong to give Martin Bashir the benefit of the doubt, basing that judgment as I did on what appeared to be deep remorse on his part.
"Throughout my 35-year career at the BBC, I have always acted in ways I believe were fair, impartial and with the public interest front and centre.
"While Lord Dyson does not criticise my integrity, I am sorry that our investigation failed to meet the standards that were required."
Lord Birt, director-general of the BBC at the time of the interview, said in a statement: "We now know that the BBC harboured a rogue reporter on Panorama who fabricated an elaborate, detailed but wholly false account of his dealings with Earl Spencer and Princess Diana.
"This is a shocking blot on the BBC’s enduring commitment to honest journalism; and it is a matter of the greatest regret that it has taken 25 years for the full truth to emerge.
"As the director-general at the time, I offer my deep apologies to Earl Spencer and to all others affected."
The BBC’s current director-general Tim Davie said the corporation accepts the findings of the report "in full".
Davie added: "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."
Ahead of the release of the report, Earl Spencer shared a childhood picture of him with Diana, with the words: "Some bonds go back a very long way."
Diana’s son the Duke of Cambridge welcomed the launch of the investigation late last year, saying it "should help establish the truth behind the actions" that led to the programme.
Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, was also said to support the inquiry.
A Panorama programme looking at the investigation was delayed, having originally been intended to air on Monday.
It will now air on 20 May, following the report's release.
Bashir quit his role as the BBC's religion editor last week on health grounds. He has been ill with complications from COVID-19.
After the interview, Charles and Diana finalised their divorce, and Diana was stripped of her HRH status, as well as the royal protection that went with it at the time.
She died in 1997, at the age of 36, in a car crash in Paris.
Watch: Princess Diana's funeral footage appears in Prince Harry's The Me You Can't See trailer