BBC Princess Diana cover-up ‘worse than the crime,’ says minister as corporation rocked by Panorama interview report fallout

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Robert Buckland warned that the BBC’s apology was likely to be only the “start” of repercussions

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BBC chiefs were today under mounting pressure over the Princess Diana interview scandal as a Cabinet minister suggested that the 25-year “cover-up” may be worse than the deceit used to obtain it.

Robert Buckland warned that the BBC’s apology was likely to be only the “start” of repercussions after the scathing report by Lord Dyson into how reporter Martin Bashir gained access to the Princess of Wales to persuade her to give him a world exclusive interview.

The Justice Secretary added that it was a “matter for the police and the investigating authorities” as to whether any criminal offences were committed. Asked on LBC Radio if he felt that Bashir’s actions were worse than the “25-year cover-up”, Mr Buckland replied: “Well, I think a lot of us will often say that sometimes the cover-up is worse than the crime.”

His comments came just hours after Prince William told how Bashir’s Panorama interview with his mother had fuelled her “fear, paranoia and isolation” in the final years of her life and damaged her relationship with Prince Charles. Prince Harry blasted the BBC saying: “The ripple effect of a culture of exploitation and unethical practices ultimately took her life.”

It is understood that the Prince of Wales, who was among those sent a letter of apology by the BBC, wanted his sons to give their reaction to the release of the report rather than speaking out himself.

In the letter, the BBC’s current director general Tim Davie director-general apologised for Bashir’s “lurid and untrue claims” about the prince, members of his staff and other members of the Royal Family.

Martin Bashir has resigned from his role as BBC religious affairs correspondent citing ill healthPA Archive
Martin Bashir has resigned from his role as BBC religious affairs correspondent citing ill healthPA Archive

The BBC was also facing questions on Friday over who took the decision to appoint Bashir as religious affairs correspondent in 2016 despite the controversy surrounding his Diana interview. He resigned from the role citing ill health last week.

Speaking during a visit to Portsmouth on Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “obviously concerned by the findings of Lord Dyson’s report”.

He said: “I can only imagine the feelings of the royal family and I hope very much that the BBC will be taking every possible step to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.”

The crisis engulfing the Corporation escalated as:

* The Metropolitan Police said it will “assess” the contents of Lord Dyson’s report on the BBC’s 1995 Panorama interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, “to ensure there is no significant new evidence”, after previously deciding not to begin a criminal investigation.

Scotland Yard said it had decided in March that “it was not appropriate to begin a criminal investigation into allegations of unlawful activity in connection with a documentary broadcast in 1995, but should any significant new evidence emerge it would be assessed”.

* On whether criminal offences may have been committed, Mr Buckland told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “That, of course, is a matter for the police and the independent prosecutorial authorities, and I’m not going to say anything to prejudge or to influence any such line of inquiry.

“But I think anybody reading the headlines and the summary of Lord Dyson’s findings will be struck by his use of those words, fraud and deception and the like, and clearly those sort of issues, I’m afraid, could and do arise.”

William and Harry with Diana in 1995. The princes have blasted the BBC over the interviewGetty Images
William and Harry with Diana in 1995. The princes have blasted the BBC over the interviewGetty Images

* Former Panorama producer Mark Killick said the BBC had presided over “a culture of fear” that deterred whistleblowers coming forward. He said he was told he was being removed from Panorama after raising concerns about the faked documents because “we only want loyal people on the programme”.

* Graphic designer Matt Wiessler, who was commissioned by Bashir to create the mocked-up documents, first raised concerns about them, and was later denied work at the BBC, said there is a culture within the Corporation that it only admits mistakes “under duress”. He said: “There is still a level of arrogance, from everybody (including) the BBC management.”

* Amid the row over whistleblowers, Mr Buckland said: “There may be issues that Lord Dyson wasn’t asked to cover that need to be looked at more widely, so it is a very serious moment for the BBC.”

The BBC’s Board, with new Director General Tim Davie, commissioned former Supreme Court judge Lord Dyson last November to carry out his inquiry into the Bashir affair. His report found the BBC covered up Bashir’s deceit and “fell short of high standards of integrity and transparency”.

Diana wrote a note saying she had ‘no regrets’ about the interviewPA Media
Diana wrote a note saying she had ‘no regrets’ about the interviewPA Media

The journalist was in “serious breach” of the BBC’s producer guidelines when he obtained faked bank statements and showed them to Earl Spencer, Diana’s brother, to gain access to the princess in 1995, the report said.

The BBC has written to the royal family to apologise for the circumstances surrounding the interview, in which Diana said: “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded”, a reference to Camilla Parker Bowles —whom Charles later married.

Personal expressions of regret have been sent to the Queen, the Prince of Wales, the dukes of Cambridge and Sussex, and Earl Spencer. He has said he “draws a line” between the Panorama interview with his sister and her death two years later.

Earl Spencer told a Panorama programme on Thursday evening the consequences of Diana’s decision to do the interview contributed to her death in a car crash in Paris in 1997.

A handwritten note from Diana, which was part of the inquiry evidence, said Bashir did not show her any documents or give her any information “that I was not previously aware of”. She said she took part in the interview “without any undue pressure” and had “no regrets concerning the matter”.

Bashir has apologised for faking the documents and said it was “an action I deeply regret”, but maintained it had “no bearing whatsoever on the personal choice by Princess Diana to take part in the interview”.

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