BBC is threatened with contempt of court for refusing to release papers on Princess Diana’s letter sent to Bashir after her infamous Panorama interview
- BBC broke law by failing to disclose information about a note written by Princess Diana after Bashir interview
- The Corporation was threatened with a charge of contempt of court and the prospect of a large fine
- The ruling is another embarrassment for BBC director general Tim Davie as he attempts to rebuild reputation
The Corporation was threatened with a charge of contempt of court and the prospect of a large fine after it was found to have flouted Freedom of Information laws.
The ruling is another embarrassment for BBC director general Tim Davie as he attempts to rebuild the Corporation’s reputation in the wake of the Bashir scandal.
Earlier this year, Lord Dyson, a former Supreme Court judge, condemned the ‘deceitful behaviour’ deployed by Bashir to land his 1995 interview with Princess Diana and condemned the BBC for covering up what it knew about his conduct.
Pictured: Rogue reporter Martin Bashir interviews the Princess of Wales for the BBC’s Panorama in 1995
Bashir used fake bank statements to gain access to the Princess before telling her a litany of lies and smears.
In December 1995, Diana sent the BBC a handwritten note, saying Bashir ‘did not show me any documents, nor give me any information that I was not previously aware of’. But the note went missing for 25 years and was only rediscovered last year.
In his report, Lord Dyson said that in 1996, a member of BBC management had told someone who has never been identified to guard the note ‘with his life’.
The individual took it home and, despite widespread coverage in the media, was apparently not aware of a hunt for the note until early November 2020.
The ruling is another embarrassment for BBC director general Tim Davie (pictured), 54, as he attempts to rebuild the Corporation’s reputation in the wake of the Bashir scandal.
In a bid to shed more light on the mystery, investigative journalist Andy Webb requested in September that, under the Freedom of Information Act, the BBC release ‘all documents’ related to Diana’s letter. The Corporation failed to respond, despite being under a legal obligation to do so within 20 days.
Last Thursday, the Information Commissioner’s Office intervened and ruled that the BBC breached section 10 of the Act. It ordered the Corporation to issue a ‘substantive response’ to Mr Webb within 35 days, adding that failure to do so could see the Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, inform the High Court and that the breach ‘may be dealt with as a contempt of court.’ The BBC released 119 pages of documents the following morning, most of which are press cuttings about the Bashir scandal and a small number of heavily redacted documents. The Corporation this weekend claimed it tried to send the information to Mr Webb on November 22 but he had not been able to receive it because of ‘technical difficulties’ with the Corporation’s FOI email account.
The documents reveal that Bashir last year told BBC bosses that he was informed in 1995 that the note was going to be kept in a safe. ‘My recollection is that I gave the letter to Steve Hewlett, then editor of Panorama, and he said that it would be stored in the “BBC safe”, which I assumed was in Television Centre,’ he said. ‘Unfortunately, I did not keep a copy – foolishly – and so don’t have it to hand.’
In another email, Fran Unsworth, the BBC’s director of news and current affairs, asked former BBC executive Anne Sloman whether she recalled seeing the Diana note. ‘The short answer is that I have no recollection of a handwritten letter from Diana,’ Ms Sloman replied.
Mr Webb said last night: ‘The BBC says it’s now transparent and accountable, yet here they are willing to actually break the law to avoid difficult questions.’
The BBC said: ‘A response was sent to Mr Webb on November 22, which he did not receive due to technical difficulties… He has now received it.’