The deception employed by Martin Bashir to secure his sensational 1995 Panorama interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, has been called “one of the greatest crimes in broadcasting history” by John Birt, managing director of the BBC at the time.
Lord Birt, testifying at an inquiry by the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee, said Bashir’s efforts to convince Diana and subsequently lie to bosses about of his actions represented “a 100-year event. to have a rogue reporter ready to deceive on this scale ”.
Among his actions, Bashir forged bank statements to gain the trust of Earl Spencer and ultimately Diana, then lied to senior BBC executives who investigated his practices at the time.
“He started his career at the BBC on Songs of Praise and ends it as a religious editor for the BBC and in the meantime he commits one of the greatest crimes in the history of broadcasting,” said Lord Birt, testifying before the select culture committee of MPs investigating the case. .
“He was a serial liar on an industrial scale. “
Last month, a damning investigation, led by former Supreme Court Justice John Dyson, found that Bashir had used “deceptive behavior” and said a 1996 internal investigation “covered up” known facts about the way he got the interview.
This investigation was carried out by former managing director Tony Hall, who was then the head of BBC News, who ultimately concluded that Bashir was an “honest and honorable man”.
“I don’t think the words ‘honest and honorable’ 25 years later sounded appropriate at all,” Hall told the committee in a hostile hour-long session, in which he was asked if he destroyed a document relating to the internal investigation.
« We haven’t tried to hide from the public – or anyone else – any of the conclusions we reached 25 years ago. The idea that there was a consistent line that we drew when trying to hide something from the public is not true. “
Hall said Bashir appeared ‘contrite, inexperienced and overwhelmed’ in a lengthy interview during the investigation, which resulted in a ‘yellow card’ approach that kept him at the BBC until 1999.
“The thing I remember best is he ended up in tears,” Hall said. “Me, us, the team gave him a second chance and it was abused and misplaced. We did not get to the bottom of the lies Bashir told us.
John Nicolson, an SNP MP and former BBC News presenter, said Hall should “forgo some of his lavish [BBC] pension ”on failures, including not asking Spencer if he had been shown the fake bank statements.
“I have been a civil servant for 35 years,” said Hall, who also directed the Royal Opera House. “I have done a lot for the BBC and I think for the arts. And I regret this thing that we all got it wrong because Bashir lied to us 25 years ago.
On Monday, an internal BBC investigation into Bashir’s rehiring in 2016, when Hall was chief executive, cleared everyone involved and found “no evidence” that it was done to cover the events of 1995.