Exclusive: Panorama to investigate itself over Princess Diana interview scandal

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Robert Mendick
·3 min read
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Diana, Princess of Wales during her 1995 Panorama interview with Martin Bashir - Tim Graham /Corbis Historical 
Diana, Princess of Wales during her 1995 Panorama interview with Martin Bashir - Tim Graham /Corbis Historical

Panorama is investigating itself over Martin Bashir’s interview with Princess Diana.

The flagship current affairs programme has commissioned a documentary into Mr Bashir’s conduct in securing his interview with the Princess and subsequent allegations of a cover-up by the corporation.

The programme threatens to take navel gazing at the BBC to a level that even the satirists on the comedy programme W1A might not have dared attempt.

John Ware, an award-winning journalist and a former stalwart reporter on Panorama for 25 years, has been drafted in by BBC executives to carry out the investigation.

The programme, likely to be broadcast in the new year, is examining the methods used by Mr Bashir, currently the BBC’s religious affairs editor, to obtain the scoop, including faking bank statements to persuade Earl Spencer to introduce Mr Bashir to Princess Diana.

Mr Bashir is unlikely to ever appear again on the BBC but is currently signed off sick suffering from the after effects of Covid-19 and a quadruple heart bypass.

The interview, broadcast in 1995, remains one of the greatest landmark events on television, and included Princess Diana’s disclosure that there were “three people” in her marriage in a reference to the Prince of Wales’s infidelity with Camilla Parker-Bowles.

A few months later, a Sunday newspaper revealed that Mr Bashir had ordered a BBC graphics artist to mock-up bank statements falsely showing Earl Spencer’s head of security was taking payments from a tabloid newspaper and an offshore company.

The BBC investigated the claims internally, leading Tony Hall, its then head of news, to effectively exonerate Mr Bashir as an “honest man”. That inquiry will now come under Panorama's withering glare.

The BBC has in the past deployed Panorama to investigate itself – although never the programme itself. Mr Ware previously carried out an investigation into the Today programme’s “sexed up” Iraq war report by Andrew Gilligan. Mr Ware accused Greg Dyke, its then director general, of “betting the farm” on Mr Gilligan’s story without having checked his notes. Mr Dyke resigned shortly after in January 2004.

Multiple sources have insisted strict “walls” have been put in place within the BBC so that Panorama is being treated like any other news outlet. One source suggested Panorama was receiving less help from the BBC than rivals in its attempt to unravel events 25 years ago.

The Panorama programme puts the corporation in a difficult position because it also has a duty of care towards staff and former employees including Mr Bashir and Lord Hall, who is now chairman of the National Gallery’s board of trustees. The appointment is made by Downing Street and should Panorama heavily criticise his role in the alleged cover-up that would turn the pressure on the former director general.

A separate, judge-led independent inquiry has been instigated by the BBC which is presided over by Lord Dyson, a former Master of the Rolls. Lord Dyson has written to Earl Spencer requesting his cooperation and that he hand over a dossier of evidence which the Earl says proves Mr Bashir’s deceit. The inquiry declined to say if Earl Spencer or Mr Bashir were helping Lord Dyson.

Mr Ware declined to comment when approached by The Telegraph last week.