Lord Hall quits National Gallery role in wake of Martin Bashir scandal

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Tony Hall has resigned as chair of the National Gallery -  Geoff Pugh
Tony Hall has resigned as chair of the National Gallery - Geoff Pugh

Lord Hall has quit as chairman of the National Gallery after being heavily criticised for his investigation into the Martin Bashir scandal which has engulfed the BBC.

The corporation’s former director general said his continued presence as both chairman and trustee at the art gallery would prove a “distraction” for an organisation he “deeply cared about”.

His announcement on Saturday followed repeated calls for him to “fall on his sword” amid fears if he remained on it would cause an “embarrassment” to the Prince of Wales, the London gallery’s royal patron.

In a statement issued through the gallery’s press office, Lord Hall said: “I have today resigned as chair of the National Gallery.

“I have always had a strong sense of public service and it is clear my continuing in the role would be a distraction to an institution I care deeply about.

“As I said two days ago, I am very sorry for the events of 25 years ago and I believe leadership means taking responsibility.”

Lord Dyson, a former judge, had found Lord Hall had conducted a “woefully ineffective” investigation into how Bashir secured an interview in 1995 with Diana, Princess of Wales, by using forged documents to “deceive” her brother, Earl Spencer.

The former master of the rolls said that in 1996 Lord Hall, the then BBC director of news and current affairs, had wrongly concluded Bashir had merely suffered a “lapse” and was an “honest and honourable man”.

Earl Spencer has since said he deeply regrets introducing Bashir to his sister, but knows the fake bank statements he was shown which wrongly suggested her staff were in the pay of the press, were pivotal to that decision.

He has now written to Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police Crime Commissioner, demanding a full inquiry because he believes the princess was the victim of blackmail and fraud.

In March, the force said it was “not appropriate” to begin a criminal investigation into allegations of unlawful activity regarding the Panorama programme unless any “new evidence” emerged.

In a statement, a spokeswoman said: “Following the publication of Lord Dyson’s report we are assessing its contents to ensure there is no significant new evidence.”

Meanwhile, more questions were being asked about why Bashir, 58, was rehired by the BBC in 2016, when Lord Hall, 70, was director-general. Bashir controversially became the corporation’s religious affairs correspondent before being promoted to religion editor.

The chairman of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee Julian Knight called on current director-general, Tim Davie, to provide a full explanation about the hiring.

Mr Knight said clarity was needed to prevent people pondering whether the journalist was given the religion job as a way of keeping him quiet about what exactly he knew.

“That is certainly something which some may be suspicious about,” Mr Knight told the BBC Today programme.

“If they knew he had lied previously and also he’d had to resign from a mediocre American network, why was he good enough for the BBC? I just want transparency and answers from the BBC.”

Mr Knight urged the BBC to consider paying compensation to “whistleblowers” like Matt Wiessler, the graphic designer who raised concerns after Bashir asked him to mock up the bank statements, who have subsequently had their careers damaged.

Following the publication of Lord Dyson’s report, Lord Hall’s position at the gallery became even more untenable after the Duke of Cambridge issued a statement blaming both Bashir - the “rogue reporter” - and BBC bosses for failings that fuelled his mother’s paranoia.

Prince Harry then accused a “ripple effect of a culture of exploitation and unethical practices” which contributed to his mother’s death.

Lord Hall’s resignation came the day after Tim Suter, the BBC executive also involved in the 1996 Bashir inquiry, said he was stepping down from the board of Ofcom, the television and radio watchdog.

Sir John Kingman, deputy chair of the National Gallery Board of Trustees, said

“Tony Hall has done a superb job” as chairman of the gallery, ”where he is much respected and liked.”

“The Gallery is extremely sorry to lose him, but of course we entirely understand and respect his decision.”

Lord Hall was appointed by the Prime Ministers as a trustee of the gallery in November 2019 and was appointed chairman in July 2020.