BBC is ‘one journalistic lapse’ from falling apart after Diana interview scandal


Lord Dyson’s excoriating 127-page inquiry report was damning of the BBC but many questions remain. Here Chief Reporter SAM GREENHILL examines some of the most pressing:

1: Who ordered BBC’s media blackout?

It was revealed that a BBC executive told the corporation’s own flagship news programmes to look the other way about Bashir. The boss was not unmasked by Lord Dyson, but he revealed how the editors of Radio 4’s Today, The World at One and PM programmes were told by ‘a senior BBC news and current affairs executive’ that ‘if anyone asks about Bashir, the official line is, ‘It’s not interesting’.’ Lord Hall, who was head of news and current affairs at the time, said he ‘didn’t know’ who the culprit was. Lord Birt, who was then director-general, also pleaded ignorance.

2: Was there a ‘hostile’ culture to whistleblowers?

The whistleblowers certainly think so as they were hounded out the corporation as ‘troublemakers’. Worse, the BBC then launched a cynical ‘briefing’ campaign. Alison Kelly, a press officer, told the inquiry she recalled being asked to inform the Panorama team ‘that the BBC was briefing the press that it suspected that stories about fake bank statements were being leaked by jealous colleagues’.

3: How did Bashir get bank details for forgeries?

There is a lingering mystery over the fake bank statements Bashir used to gain access to Diana – because somehow he had obtained specific personal account details to put on to them. Lord Dyson ruled out Diana or her brother providing them, suggesting Bashir must have used some other method to get hold of the information.

4: Who burgled faked bank statements from graphic designer?

We still don’t know who burgled the flat of BBC graphics designer Matt Wiessler and stole nothing but two computer disks containing the fake bank statements. The vital evidence vanished in the mysterious raid on the night of the Panorama Christmas party in December 1995. Panorama producer Mark Killick’s home was also burgled.

5: Was Bashir source of ‘sorry about baby’ remark?

Few were so wounded by Bashir’s smears than royal nanny Tiggy Legge-Bourke. He allegedly baited Diana by encouraging her to believe false claims of an affair with Prince Charles and ‘an abortion’. At a party on December 14, 1995, Diana devastated innocent Miss Legge-Bourke with the acid remark: ‘So sorry to hear about the baby’. Lord Dyson said the episode was irrelevant to his inquiries.

6: Why was Bashir re-hired by BBC in 2016?

In 2016 the BBC under director-general Lord Hall brought Martin Bashir back into the fold, as religious affairs correspondent – even though Hall knew Bashir had lied during the Diana scandal 20 years earlier. Bashir was subsequently promoted to the prestigious post of BBC religion editor. The chairman of the Commons’ media committee, Julian Knight, said: ‘Why was Martin Bashir rehired, with the BBC knowing what they knew?’

7: Would BBC cooperate with a criminal inquiry?

When the News of the World newspaper was accused of underhand behaviour, it did not take long before Scotland Yard was conducting dawn raids. Today there are several calls for police to probe whether former BBC chiefs should be investigated.

8: Did Bashir use similar deceit in Terry Venables documentary?

Lord Dyson said the terms of his inquiry meant he would not examine claims that Bashir used ‘similar techniques of document fabrication’ on a documentary about former England football manager Terry Venables. Venables went on to sue the BBC unsuccessfully.

9: Why was Panorama special delayed?

The BBC bravely commissioned a Panorama special to investigate itself – then pulled the programme hours before transmission on Monday. It was finally shown on Thursday night. The BBC said it was a ‘duty of care issue’ with Bashir on sick leave following heart surgery but others questioned what difference three days made.

10: Why did Lord Hall not ask Earl Spencer for evidence?

Lord Hall cleared Bashir as ‘honest and honourable’ in his 1996 inquiry without even checking if Earl Spencer had any evidence – which the judge called ‘a most serious flaw in the investigation’.

…and the potential offences 

As detectives pore over the Lord Dyson report to check for any evidence of criminality, they could consider these potential offences:

FRAUD: Under the Theft Act 1968, which was in force in 1995, it was an offence to obtain money or ‘pecuniary advantage’ by deception. It is still an offence under the Fraud Act 2006.

Fraud is defined as a false representation by means of a statement or conduct made knowingly or recklessly to gain a material advantage.

FORGERY: Under the Forgery Act 1981, it is an offence to procure falsified financial documents with the intention to deceive.

Blackmail: Under the Theft Act 1968, a person is guilty of blackmail if – with a view to a gain to himself or with the intent to cause loss to another – he makes an ‘unwarranted demand with menaces’.

Earl Spencer has suggested Diana may have been a victim of blackmail.

CONSPIRACY TO PERVERT THE COURSE OF JUSTICE: If Bashir’s behaviour is considered to amount to fraud or forgery, any BBC executives knowing he had used forged documents and made false allegations face a possible charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. There is also a separate offence of aiding and abetting a crime.

 

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