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Long-lost letter that Princess Diana sent to Martin Bashir is revealed

A long-lost letter that Princess Diana sent to BBC journalist Martin Bashir saying she had ‘no regrets’ and wasn’t ‘pressured’ into her bombshell Panorama interview was sensationally revealed today for the first time.

The note, which was written on official Kensington Palace stationery and signed by Diana in December 1995, was included as evidence in the official inquiry into the conduct of the reporter in securing the interview.

Lord Dyson’s report released today also revealed that solicitors representing Princes William and Harry had said the ‘handwriting, notepaper and signature would appear to indicate that the author was Princess Diana’.

The letter, which was in an envelope marked ‘Martin’, said: ‘December 22, 1995. Martin Bashir did not show me any documents, nor give me any information that I was not previously aware of. I consented to the interview on Panorama without any undue pressure and have no regrets concerning the matter. Diana.’ 

The word ‘no’ was underlined, as was her name. The report also revealed how an anonymous man was asked in early 1996 by a member of BBC management to ‘guard it with his life’ and took the note home for safekeeping.  

It was kept filed in a study, and taken to his new house when he moved. Then in November 2020, the man became aware of the news story that the note was missing – and found it along with other BBC papers he kept.  

The long-lost letter that Princess Diana sent to BBC journalist Martin Bashir saying she had 'no regrets' and wasn't 'pressured'

The long-lost letter that Princess Diana sent to BBC journalist Martin Bashir saying she had ‘no regrets’ and wasn’t ‘pressured’

The letter on Kensington Palace paper was in an envelope marked 'Martin', dated December 22, 1995 and signed by Diana

The letter on Kensington Palace paper was in an envelope marked ‘Martin’, dated December 22, 1995 and signed by Diana

The person then told the BBC’s legal department on November 10 last year. Someone from the corporation went to his house and collected the Diana note along with the other BBC documents, according to the report.

Lord Dyson said BBC management ‘believed that this note put an end to any concerns about the methods deployed, in particular by Mr Bashir, in securing the interview’.

Key findings from Lord Dyson’s report into the Panorama interview

  • Martin Bashir breached BBC rules by mocking up fake bank statements and showing them to Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, to gain access to the princess.
  • The documents falsely suggested individuals were being paid for keeping the princess under surveillance.
  • He acted to deceive Earl Spencer and encourage him to arrange for Bashir to meet Diana. – Bashir was therefore able to persuade her to agree to give the interview. 
  • During a meeting on August 31 1995 Bashir told Earl Spencer he was a target of the tabloids and that his household contained informants who were selling private information about him to that end of the media. 
  • Lord Dyson said Bashir had engaged in ‘deceitful behaviour’ in a ‘serious breach’ of the BBC’s producer guidelines. 
  • A letter, which was included as evidence in the report, written on official Kensington Palace stationery and signed by Diana says she consented to the interview ‘without any undue pressure and have no regrets concerning the matter’. 
  • The BBC subsequently ‘fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark’ in its internal investigation in 1996. 
  • Lord Tony Hall, who was director of BBC news and current affairs when the Diana interview was screened, has apologised, saying it ‘fell well short of what was required’. 
  • Steve Hewlett, who edited the Panorama interview, reassured Earl Spencer at the time of the interview that ‘Martin is one of my very best’. 
  • However, Hewlett’s widow Rachel Crellin offered Lord Dyson’s inquiry ‘a detailed and strong response’ to accusations that he was aware or involved in Bashir’s behaviour.

 

He added that suspicions had been raised that it was a forgery, but he was ‘satisfied that it is a genuine document’. 

Lord Dyson wrote in his report: ‘Harbottle & Lewis, solicitors representing the Duke of Cambridge and the Duke of Sussex, have told me that the handwriting, notepaper and signature would appear to indicate that the author was Princess Diana.

‘Moreover, an account has been provided to me on condition of confidentiality of what became of the document between, probably, early in 1996 and November 2020. The person concerned was asked early in 1996 by someone in BBC Management to ‘guard it with his life’ (or words to that effect).

‘At some point, he took it home for safekeeping and filed it in his study. When he moved house, he took it (and other documents relating to the Diana interview) to his new house. In about early November 2020, he became aware of the news story that the Diana note was missing. He searched for it and found it together with the other BBC documents that he had kept.

‘On November 10, 2020, he informed the BBC’s Legal Department. On the same day, someone from the BBC went to his house and collected the Diana note and the other BBC documents. I see no reason not to accept the truth of the whole of this account.’

Last November, the BBC announced it had ‘recovered’ the long-lost note handwritten by Diana – supposedly the corporation’s ‘get out of jail free’ card for the Bashir scandal. 

Until then, the corporation had unable to locate the Princess’s crucial letter, which it had previously used to exonerate itself over claims of Bashir’s underhand tactics.  

A BBC spokesman said last November: ‘The BBC has now recovered the Princess’s original handwritten note which is referred to in our records from the time. We will pass it on to the independent investigation. 

‘As there has been a lot of commentary about this note and journalists have asked about it, we thought it appropriate to put on record that we’ve now recovered it.’ 

At the time, former head of royal protection Dai Davies said: ‘It all sounds very convenient to me, suddenly finding crucial evidence. This is no way to hold an inquiry, with key participants just coming up with useful evidence.

‘This should all be being handled by the police, not the BBC press office. If this was any other organisation, they would be getting a heavy knock on the door from police officers.’

The exact wording of the letter by Diana, who died in Paris in August 1997, had never been seen publicly until today. 

It was supposedly couriered from Kensington Palace in 1996 to satisfy BBC top brass that she was happy with her interview, following revelations that Bashir had used forged bank statements to trick her into granting it. 

The letter was written by Princess Diana to journalist Martin Bashir and related to her bombshell 1995 Panorama interview

The letter was written by Princess Diana to journalist Martin Bashir and related to her bombshell 1995 Panorama interview

The exact wording of the Diana letter had never been seen publicly until today as the report into the interview was released

The exact wording of the Diana letter had never been seen publicly until today as the report into the interview was released

A history of the flagship programme records that Panorama editor Steve Hewlett, who died in 2017, said he would provide proof there was nothing wrong with the interview.

Full statements given by key figures in response to Lord Dyson’s report

Martin Bashir, who interviewed Princess Diana

‘This is the second time that I have willingly fully co-operated with an investigation into events more than 25 years ago. I apologised then, and I do so again now, over the fact that I asked for bank statements to be mocked up. It was a stupid thing to do and was an action I deeply regret. But I absolutely stand by the evidence I gave a quarter of a century ago, and again more recently. I also reiterate that the bank statements had no bearing whatsoever on the personal choice by Princess Diana to take part in the interview. Evidence handed to the inquiry in her own handwriting (and published alongside the report today) unequivocally confirms this, and other compelling evidence presented to Lord Dyson reinforces it. In fact, despite his other findings, Lord Dyson himself in any event accepts that the princess would probably have agreed to be interviewed without what he describes as my ‘intervention’. It is saddening that this single issue has been allowed to overshadow the princess’ brave decision to tell her story, to courageously talk through the difficulties she faced and to help address the silence and stigma that surrounded mental health issues all those years ago. She led the way in addressing so many of these issues and that’s why I will always remain immensely proud of that interview.’

Lord Tony Hall, former BBC director-general, who was director of news and current affairs when the Diana interview was screened

‘I have read Lord Dyson’s report, and I accept that our investigation 25 years ago into how Panorama secured the interview with Princess Diana fell well short of what was required. In hindsight, there were further steps we could and should have taken following complaints about Martin Bashir’s conduct. I was wrong to give Martin Bashir the benefit of the doubt, basing that judgement as I did on what appeared to be deep remorse on his part. Throughout my 35-year career at the BBC, I have always acted in ways I believe were fair, impartial and with the public interest front and centre. While Lord Dyson does not criticise my integrity, I am sorry that our investigation failed to meet the standards that were required.’

Mark Killick, a senior producer on Panorama

‘Lord Dyson’s report shows that what Martin Bashir did was disgraceful and what the BBC management did was little better. When I first found out what had happened, I consulted a BBC lawyer, then talked to Bashir and senior colleagues before using the editorial referral route. I knew when I did it that the BBC might react badly, but I had no idea just how far they would go to try and discredit me. Whilst this happened some time ago, the BBC should give a commitment to its staff that they can safely raise the sort of matter that I was faced with without losing their job or having the BBC’s vast publicity machine unleashed against them.’

Lord Birt, director-general of the BBC at the time of the interview

‘We now know that the BBC harboured a rogue reporter on Panorama who fabricated an elaborate, detailed but wholly false account of his dealings with Earl Spencer and Princess Diana. 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. As the director-general at the time, I offer my deep apologies to Earl Spencer and to all others affected.’

Soon afterwards, the handwritten note arrived, apparently to confirm Diana had given the interview freely, and her decision to do so was not influenced by any documents.

Insiders assume it was Bashir who procured the note, but its exact provenance had never been confirmed. After its arrival, senior manager Tim Suter was quoted as saying: ‘We could relax.’

But incredibly, the note then went missing. Before it was discovered last November, Lord Grade said: ‘We don’t know if that letter was just another forgery. We don’t know, because it’s disappeared, conveniently.’  

It comes as the official inquiry concluded that Bashir used ‘deceitful behaviour’ and was in ‘serious breach’ of the BBC’s producer guidelines to secure his interview with Diana.

The BBC ‘fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark’ in a subsequent investigation, according to the report by Lord Dyson.

The former master of the rolls and head of civil justice was appointed to look into the circumstances surrounding the explosive 1995 interview, which famously featured Diana saying: ‘Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.’

Bashir breached BBC rules by mocking up fake bank statements and showing them to Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, to gain access to the princess, the report said.

In response to Lord Dyson’s findings, Bashir apologised, saying the faking of bank statements was ‘an action I deeply regret’ but added he felt it had ‘no bearing whatsoever on the personal choice by Princess Diana to take part in the interview’.

Senior BBC executives were criticised over a 1996 internal investigation which examined the mocked-up documents relating to the earl’s former employee, as it tried to determine whether or not the princess had been misled, with a key piece of evidence, a note from Diana, suggesting she had not.

The report said: ‘Without justification, the BBC fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark by covering up in its press logs such facts as it had been able to establish about how Mr Bashir secured the interview and failing to mention Mr Bashir’s activities or the BBC investigations of them on any news programme.’

Responding to the report, Bashir said: ‘This is the second time that I have willingly fully co-operated with an investigation into events more than 25 years ago. I apologised then, and I do so again now, over the fact that I asked for bank statements to be mocked up. It was a stupid thing to do and was an action I deeply regret. But I absolutely stand by the evidence I gave a quarter of a century ago, and again more recently.’

Bashir, who was the BBC News religion editor, announced last week he was quitting the BBC on health grounds as he has been seriously unwell with Covid-19 related complications.

His statement further added: ‘I also reiterate that the bank statements had no bearing whatsoever on the personal choice by Princess Diana to take part in the interview. Evidence handed to the inquiry in her own handwriting (and published alongside the report today) unequivocally confirms this, and other compelling evidence presented to Lord Dyson reinforces it. In fact, despite his other findings, Lord Dyson himself in any event accepts that the Princess would probably have agreed to be interviewed without what he describes as my ‘intervention’.

‘It is saddening that this single issue has been allowed to overshadow the Princess’ brave decision to tell her story, to courageously talk through the difficulties she faced, and, to help address the silence and stigma that surrounded mental health issues all those years ago. She led the way in addressing so many of these issues and that’s why I will always remain immensely proud of that interview.’

Former director-general Lord Tony Hall, who was director of BBC news and current affairs when the Diana interview was screened, has apologised that the inquiry ‘fell well short of what was required’.

Diana, Princess of Wales with Prince William and Prince Harry in September 1995. She died in Paris in August 1997

Diana, Princess of Wales with Prince William and Prince Harry in September 1995. She died in Paris in August 1997

Lord Dyson carried out the report into how former BBC News religion editor Martin Bashir landed the Panorama interview

Lord Dyson carried out the report into how former BBC News religion editor Martin Bashir landed the Panorama interview

He said: ‘I have read Lord Dyson’s report, and I accept that our investigation 25 years ago into how Panorama secured the interview with Princess Diana fell well short of what was required. In hindsight, there were further steps we could and should have taken following complaints about Martin Bashir’s conduct.

‘I was wrong to give Martin Bashir the benefit of the doubt, basing that judgment as I did on what appeared to be deep remorse on his part. Throughout my 35-year career at the BBC, I have always acted in ways I believe were fair, impartial and with the public interest front and centre.

‘While Lord Dyson does not criticise my integrity, I am sorry that our investigation failed to meet the standards that were required.’

Diana’s Panorama interview in 1995 sent shockwaves through the monarchy with details about the state of her marriage to the Prince of Wales.

Earl Spencer claimed that in the weeks before the programme, Bashir showed him forged bank statements that related to alleged payments made to his sister’s former private secretary Patrick Jephson and another former royal household member by the security services.

The documents falsely suggested the individuals were being paid for keeping the princess under surveillance.

He also showed him mocked-up documents, relating to a former employee of the earl, that Bashir also used as he tried to gain access to the princess.


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