BBC reporter used deceit to get explosive 1995 Princess Diana interview, investigation finds

LONDON — A BBC journalist used “deceitful behavior” to secure an explosive interview with Princess Diana in 1995, in a “serious breach” of the broadcaster’s guidelines, an investigation found Thursday. 

The BBC said in November it had appointed a retired senior judge to lead an investigation after Diana’s brother, Charles, Earl Spencer, made renewed complaints that journalist Martin Bashir used false documents and other dishonest tactics to persuade Diana to agree to the interview aired on the “Panorama” news program. 

Spencer alleged Bashir showed him fake bank documents relating to his sister’s former private secretary and another former royal household member, with the aim of gaining access to the princess. 

The interview, in which Diana famously said “there were three of us in this marriage” — referring to husband Prince Charles’ relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles, now his second wife — was watched by millions of people and sent shockwaves through the country and the monarchy.

Princess Diana is pictured being interviewed interviewed by the BBC's Martin Bashir in the current affairs program "Panorama" on Nov. 20, 1995. She discussed with apparent candor her life and problems with her husband, Prince Charles, the royal family and the press. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

In early 1996, the BBC carried out an internal inquiry that cleared Bashir, Panorama and BBC News of wrongdoing. The new inquiry concluded that investigation was “woefully ineffective.”

The BBC’s chairman, Richard Sharp, said the corporation accepts the investigation’s findings, adding “there were unacceptable failures.”

John Birt, director-general of the BBC at the time of the interview, which was aired on “Panorama,” apologized to Charles Spencer in a statement.

“We now know that the BBC harbored a rogue reporter on Panorama who fabricated an elaborate, detailed but wholly false account of his dealings with Earl Spencer and Princess Diana,” he said. “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.”

The investigation considered whether actions taken by Bashir influenced Diana’s decision to give the interview. It also looked into how much the BBC knew about the “mocked-up bank statements” that Charles Spencer claimed Bashir produced.

Martin Bashir in January 2013 in Washington, D.C.. (Photo: Nick Wass, Nick Wass/Invision/AP)

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Bashir, 58, who resigned from the BBC last week due to “ongoing health issues,” apologized in a statement for mocking up the documents, but said he remained “immensely proud” of the interview, according to the BBC’s report on the investigation.

“The bank statements had no bearing whatsoever on the personal choice by Princess Diana to take part in the interview,” Bashir’s statement said. “Evidence handed to the inquiry in her own handwriting (and published alongside the report today) unequivocally confirms this, and other compelling evidence presented to (the investigators) reinforces it.”

The investigation published for the first time that letter from Diana, dated December 1995 and written in her distinctive handwriting on Kensington Palace stationary. Bashir told the investigators he found the note during a search of his home in November 2020, and gave it to BBC officials.

The note reads: “Martin Bashir did not show me any documents, nor give me any information that I was not previously aware of.”

Diana divorced from Charles in 1996 and died in a Paris car crash in 1997 as she was pursued by paparazzi. Charles married Camilla, now the Duchess of Cornwall, in 2005.

Charles Spencer, Earl Spencer with his wife Karen, Countess Spencer arrive for the wedding of his nephew, Prince Harry and the former Meghan Markle at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, May 19, 2018. (Photo: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images)

The Diana interview, plus a similarly bombshell documentary on Michael Jackson in 2003, catapulted the then-obscure Bashir to prominence and eventually to high-profile jobs in the United States, including as anchor on ABC’s “Nightline” and as a political commentator for MSNBC.

He was suspended and subsequently resigned from MSNBC in 2013 after he made on-air comments he later described as “unacceptable” about former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Bashir reported on religious affairs for the BBC since 2016. In October, the BBC reported he was “seriously unwell” with COVID-19-related complications.

Contributing: Maria Puente, Hannah Yasharoff

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