Prince William on Thursday launched an unprecedented attack on the BBC over its handling of claims relating to the 1995 BBC Panorama interview with his late mother, after the BBC apologised over the affair.
The prince, who is second in line to the throne, said Martin Bashir’s interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, had worsened the relationship between his parents, who separated in 1992 and decided to divorce in 1996, after the airing of the interview.
The prince was speaking after an inquiry found Bashir lied to obtain an interview with the princess in 1995, using deceitful methods later covered up by a “woefully ineffective” internal investigation by the broadcaster’s former director-general Lord Tony Hall.
The prince said the deceitful way Bashir obtained the interview “substantially influenced” what his mother said in the interview, in which she said the marriage was “crowded” because of the relationship of Prince Charles, her husband, with Camilla, now his wife.
“The interview was a major contribution to making my parents’ relationship worse and has since hurt countless others,” Prince William said in a statement, which he also gave in broadcast form to ITV News, the BBC’s main rival.
The report into the interview by Lord John Dyson, a former judge of the UK’s Supreme Court, was published on Thursday and offers a scathing account of Bashir’s use of forged documents to gain access to the princess, before repeatedly lying to cover his tracks.
The prince said it brought him “indescribable sadness” to know that the BBC’s failures had “contributed significantly” to the “fear, paranoia and isolation” that he remembered from his final years with her.
What saddened him most, he went on, was that if the BBC had properly investigated the complaints and concerns first raised in 1995 his mother, who died in August 1997, would have known 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,” he said. “It is my firm view that this Panorama programme holds no legitimacy and should never be aired again. It effectively established a false narrative which, for over a quarter of a century, has been commercialised by the BBC and others.”
Even after a quarter of a century, the official inquiry is a blow to the reputation of the UK’s national public service broadcaster and some of its most senior current and former executives.
Diana’s interview with Bashir, broadcast by the corporation’s flagship investigative programme Panorama, became one of the biggest scoops of the era. It included her remark “there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded”, a reference to her husband Prince Charles’s affair with the woman he would later marry, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
Bashir, according to the inquiry, faked bank statements and showed them to Diana’s brother Charles, Earl Spencer, convincing him to help Bashir gain access to her. The documents suggested members of the royal household were paid to keep the princess under surveillance.
Bashir, who resigned from the corporation last week, said forging documents was “an action I deeply regret” but insisted it had “no bearing” on Diana’s decision to participate.
Dyson’s findings are highly critical of Hall and his part in a 1996 internal investigation into Bashir’s conduct, which concluded Bashir was an “honest and an honourable man”. Dyson said in failing to challenge Bashir’s “serious and unexplained lies” he neglected to cross-check his account with Spencer.
Hall was managing director of news and current affairs at the time of the internal probe, and went on to lead the BBC for seven years until his resignation last year. He remains chair of the National Gallery.
Dyson finds that Hall “could not reasonably have concluded” that Bashir was honest. He also rejects the BBC’s claim that there was no cover-up of wrongdoing in its own reporting and in answers to questions from external journalists.
“Without justification, the BBC fell short of high standards of integrity and transparency,” Dyson wrote.
Hall apologised on Thursday and said “in hindsight” there were further steps “we could and should have taken”.
“I was wrong to give Martin Bashir the benefit of the doubt,” he added.
Lord John Birt, the BBC director-general at the time of the interview, said it was now clear there was “a rogue reporter” at Panorama, who “fabricated an elaborate, detailed but wholly false account of his dealings with Earl Spencer and Diana, Princess of Wales”.
“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,” he added.
Tim Davie, Hall’s successor as director-general, accepted that the BBC “fell far short of what audiences have a right to expect”.
“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,” he said. “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.”