Watch: 'No evidence' Martin Bashir was rehired by BBC in cover-up over Princess Diana interview, review finds
Martin Bashir was paid the equivalent of £45,000 per appearance on the BBC while he was the corporation's religion editor, an MP has claimed.
Bashir was rehired by the BBC in 2016 when he was a religious affairs correspondent and then promoted to religion editor in 2018, a decision that has been criticised in the wake of a damning report by Lord Dyson into the circumstances surrounding Bashir's interview with Princess Diana in 1995.
Former and current BBC bosses answered questions from MPs on the Department for Culture, Media and Sport select committee on Tuesday, expressing regret at the rehiring of the veteran reporter and offering more apologies to Prince William and Prince Harry.
Bashir was believed to have been paid between £80,000 and £120,000 when he worked for the BBC, with committee chairman Julian Knight telling Lord Tony Hall, a former director-general, that Bashir had been on BBC television and the website half a dozen times in three years.
He added: "That’s about £45,000 a time, nice work if you can get it."
Lord Hall replied: "That is not effective use of a correspondent, not a good record."
Later, current boss Tim Davie was asked if he knew that Bashir had "more prime time on Celebrity X Factor as the BBC’s religion supremo than he did on television reporting religion".
Davie responded: "I haven’t seen those hours in front of me, no."
John Nicolson, who made the claim, said: "Rather suggests he wasn’t as invaluable to the corporation as was suggested at the time of his hiring and subsequently."
A report on Monday cleared the BBC over its decision to rehire Bashir, but said there were shortcomings in the process.
The internal investigation, led by BBC executive Ken MacQuarrie, found "no evidence that Martin Bashir was rehired to contain and/or cover up the events surrounding the 1995 Panorama programme".
It added: "None of the individuals involved in the recruitment of Martin Bashir had knowledge of all of the matters contained in the Dyson report."
Speaking to MPs on the committee on Tuesday, Lord Hall said: "If we knew then what we know now, of course he wouldn’t have been re-hired."
However he said the decision on rehiring would have been devolved to someone else, and pushed back against MPs who said it was "implausible" that he would not have known about Bashir's return.
He said: "What I understand from the report I read yesterday from the BBC was the head of newsgathering had spoken to Steve Hewlett, the former editor of Panorama, and had been briefed by him and then the judgment about Martin Bashir’s re-employment was made by him and by James Harding so in that sense that was his due diligence.”
He added: "We didn’t know 25 years ago the scale of what Martin Bashir had done to gain access to the Princess of Wales through Earl Spencer. If we knew now, through Lord Dyson, what we know about Martin Bashir then of course he wouldn’t have been re-employed."
But Lord Hall did discuss his involvement in the 1996 internal inquiry into the faked documents that Bashir used to get to the princess, and said the journalist had been "in tears" during one of the interviews.
He said: "He appeared to us that he was contrite, inexperienced and out of his depth and that is why in the end rather than sacking him, and I can see the reasons for that, he was given a second chance."
Lord Hall admitted he had not yet spoken to Prince William, preferring to wait until he had appeared before the committee, but said he has a "huge amount of respect for the prince" and felt "deeply sorry for the hurt that this has caused to him".
Watch: Earl Spencer hails Harry and Meghan’s tribute to Diana
Current BBC director-general Davie said he had "engaged with the royal household directly" but did not disclose who he had spoken to.
Asked how he felt about the critical comments from the Duke of Cambridge after the report was released, he told MPs: "It was upsetting, and it was a sad day.
"Primarily I felt deep sympathy for the sons of Princess Diana and as you know we have offered an unconditional apology and that was the primary thing in my mind.
"For us as an institution that cares so deeply and has an outstanding record of journalistic integrity, it was a very low moment for us."
Asked if he has spoken to the princes since the publication of the Dyson report, he said: "I have engaged with the royal household directly, I do think it’s appropriate as to who was in meetings and exactly who I talked to, they were private and confidential meetings.
"So I think I will leave it to the royal household in terms of if they want to say anything on that, but I have talked directly to the royal household."
Davie took over the role in September 2020.
A second former director-general, Lord John Birt, also appeared before the committee on Tuesday morning, calling Bashir a "trickster" and a "liar".
He said: "It is simply not the case that anyone set out to deceive other than Martin Bashir, as you say quite a guy. Unless you understand that this was a serial liar on an industrial scale you simply can’t understand the story."
Pressed on whether he believed it worsened Diana's mental state, he said: "It is a tragic occurrence.
"It is an absolute horror story and it should never have happened – and it is a complete embarrassment that it did happen. None of us can speculate.
"My heart goes out to the sons of Princess Diana but none of us can truly speculate and understand what the consequences were.
"What we can understand is that this was a plane crash."
Lord Birt, who was director-general between 1992 and 2000, also claimed that the scope of the Panorama episode had originally been about security in the Royal Family, and that it would have come across his desk had that been the final aim of the show.
Earlier on Tuesday morning, Diana's brother Charles, the Earl Spencer, said he hoped his sister would have been happy with the findings of the report.
He told Good Morning Britain: "I hope she’d be pleased the truth is out to the context. She was taken into a very dark place, as you saw in that report, William referred to, you know, her paranoia was fed…"
William issued a statement after the Dyson report was released saying it brought "indescribable sadness to know that the BBC’s failures contributed significantly to her fear, paranoia and isolation that I remember from those final years with her.
"But what saddens me most is that if the BBC had properly investigated the complaints and concerns first raised in 1995, my mother would have known that she had been deceived.
"She was failed not just by a rogue reporter, but by leaders at the BBC who looked the other way rather than asking the tough questions."
Earl Spencer has previously said he would have supported her in giving an interview, but reiterated his view that the way in which it was secured "set the tone" for what she said.
He said: "The circumstances in which she was duped into speaking, that set the tone for the conversation and that’s unforgivable, especially coming from the BBC.
"I’m sorry that they’re held to a higher standard than others, but you know, you do expect them to play it straight."
The BBC statement following the report offered an apology to the Royal Family, with current director-general Tim Davie saying: "The BBC should have made greater effort to get to the bottom of what happened at the time and been more transparent about what it knew.
"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."
Bashir quit his job as religion editor before the Dyson report was released on health grounds, as he is suffering with complications to do with COVID-19.
He was being paid for his notice period, but the BBC said this was cheaper than alternatives.
Bashir defended his interview in The Sunday Times, saying he did not think he harmed the princess, and citing a longer term-friendship he developed with her.
He told the paper: "Everything we did in terms of the interview was as she wanted, from when she wanted to alert the palace, to when it was broadcast, to its contents ... My family and I loved her."