BBC faces calls to compensate to whistleblowers over Diana interview

BBC faces calls to compensate and apologise to whistleblowers who raised fears over Martin Bashir’s Diana interview – as Jonathan Dimbleby brands rogue reporter a ‘consummate conman’

  • The corporation is under intense pressure after a damning report by Lord Dyson
  • He found that it covered up the ‘deceitful behaviour’ of journalist Martin Bashir
  • Julian Knight MP said there was a need to strengthen editorial policy at the BBC
  • His calls were echoed by former BBC chief operating officer Caroline Thomson
  • Sir Cliff Richard said those involved deserve ‘all that must surely come their way’

The BBC is facing growing calls to pay compensation to whistleblowers who raised concerns about the way its interview with Diana, Princess of Wales was obtained.

The corporation is under intense pressure after the damning report by Lord Dyson found it covered up the ‘deceitful behaviour’ of journalist Martin Bashir.

Chairman of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee Julian Knight said there was a need to strengthen editorial policy at the BBC.

His calls were echoed by former BBC chief operating officer Caroline Thomson who said whistleblowers should be ‘dealt with properly and compensated if necessary’.

Meanwhile Sir Cliff Richard, who sued the broadcaster over its coverage of a police raid on his home, said those involved deserve ‘all that must surely come their way’.

And veteran BBC journalist Jonathan Dimbleby branded Bashir a ‘consummate conman and liar’.

It comes after Boris Johnson put the BBC on notice there must be no repeat of the Bashir scandal as it faced a radical overhaul of its governing structures.

It emerged the corporation could be compelled to set up a separate, independent editorial board to oversee its journalism.

The BBC is facing growing calls to pay compensation to whistleblowers who raised concerns about the way its interview with Diana, Princess of Wales was obtained. Pictured: Bashir

The Martin Bashir interview with Princess Diana in November 1995, which used mocked up bank statements to get her speak

Chairman of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee Julian Knight said there was a need to strengthen editorial policy at the BBC

Meanwhile Sir Cliff Richard, who sued the broadcaster over its coverage of a police raid on his home, said those involved deserve ‘all that must surely come their way’

Veteran BBC journalist Jonathan Dimbleby branded Bashir a ‘consummate conman and liar’

Mr Knight said the corporation should look at the way it treated insiders such as graphic designer Matt Wiessler who tried to expose Bashir’s methods.

Mr Wiessler complained he had been sidelined after he raised concerns fake bank statements he mocked up for Bashir had been used by the journalist against Diana.

Mr Knight said Mr Wiessler clearly believed he had been badly treated and BBC director-general Tim Davie should now meet him to hear directly what he had to say.

He told the Today programme: ‘He is clearly very emotional, he feels this has probably impaired his life to a certain degree.

‘I think the BBC needs to have a real open mind in terms of the possibility of compensation but also how it interacts with people like Mr Wiessler who clearly have faced quite profound consequences due to this fiasco.’

Mr Knight has already written to Mr Davie asking for an explanation as to how Bashir came to be rehired by the BBC as its religious affairs correspondent in 2016.

His new job came even though it was known that he had lied over the bank statements.

The MP said some people may suspect Bashir was given the job as a way of keeping quiet about what exactly he knew.

Matt Wiessler, the graphic designer tricked by Martin Bashir into mocking up fake bank statements used to convince Diana to do the Panorama interview, saved Bashir’s father

Amid the continuing fallout from the Lord Dyson (pictured) report, Mr Knight suggested Lord Hall, the former BBC director-general who conducted a botched investigation into Bashir’s conduct, would have to consider stepping back from public life

It was revealed that a BBC executive told the corporation’s own flagship news programmes to look the other way about Bashir. The boss was not unmasked by Lord Dyson, but he revealed how the editors of Radio 4’s Today, The World at One and PM programmes were told by ‘a senior BBC news and current affairs executive’ that ‘if anyone asks about Bashir, the official line is, ‘It’s not interesting’.’ Lord Hall, who was head of news and current affairs at the time, said he ‘didn’t know’ who the culprit was. Lord Birt, who was then director-general, also pleaded ignorance.

2: Was there a ‘hostile’ culture to whistleblowers?

The whistleblowers certainly think so as they were hounded out the corporation as ‘troublemakers’. Worse, the BBC then launched a cynical ‘briefing’ campaign. Alison Kelly, a press officer, told the inquiry she recalled being asked to inform the Panorama team ‘that the BBC was briefing the press that it suspected that stories about fake bank statements were being leaked by jealous colleagues’.

3: How did Bashir get bank details for forgeries?

There is a lingering mystery over the fake bank statements Bashir used to gain access to Diana – because somehow he had obtained specific personal account details to put on to them. Lord Dyson ruled out Diana or her brother providing them, suggesting Bashir must have used some other method to get hold of the information.

4: Who burgled faked bank statements from graphic designer?

We still don’t know who burgled the flat of BBC graphics designer Matt Wiessler and stole nothing but two computer disks containing the fake bank statements. The vital evidence vanished in the mysterious raid on the night of the Panorama Christmas party in December 1995. Panorama producer Mark Killick’s home was also burgled.

5: Was Bashir source of ‘sorry about baby’ remark?

Few were so wounded by Bashir’s smears than royal nanny Tiggy Legge-Bourke. He allegedly baited Diana by encouraging her to believe false claims of an affair with Prince Charles and ‘an abortion’. At a party on December 14, 1995, Diana devastated innocent Miss Legge-Bourke with the acid remark: ‘So sorry to hear about the baby’. Lord Dyson said the episode was irrelevant to his inquiries.

6: Why was Bashir re-hired by BBC in 2016?

In 2016 the BBC under director-general Lord Hall brought Martin Bashir back into the fold, as religious affairs correspondent – even though Hall knew Bashir had lied during the Diana scandal 20 years earlier. Bashir was subsequently promoted to the prestigious post of BBC religion editor. The chairman of the Commons’ media committee, Julian Knight, said: ‘Why was Martin Bashir rehired, with the BBC knowing what they knew?’

7: Would BBC cooperate with a criminal inquiry?

When the News of the World newspaper was accused of underhand behaviour, it did not take long before Scotland Yard was conducting dawn raids. Today there are several calls for police to probe whether former BBC chiefs should be investigated.

8: Did Bashir use similar deceit in Terry Venables documentary?

Lord Dyson said the terms of his inquiry meant he would not examine claims that Bashir used ‘similar techniques of document fabrication’ on a documentary about former England football manager Terry Venables. Venables went on to sue the BBC unsuccessfully.

9: Why was Panorama special delayed?

The BBC bravely commissioned a Panorama special to investigate itself – then pulled the programme hours before transmission on Monday. It was finally shown on Thursday night. The BBC said it was a ‘duty of care issue’ with Bashir on sick leave following heart surgery but others questioned what difference three days made.

10: Why did Lord Hall not ask Earl Spencer for evidence?

Lord Hall cleared Bashir as ‘honest and honourable’ in his 1996 inquiry without even checking if Earl Spencer had any evidence – which the judge called ‘a most serious flaw in the investigation’.

…and the potential offences 

As detectives pore over the Lord Dyson report to check for any evidence of criminality, they could consider these potential offences:

FRAUD: Under the Theft Act 1968, which was in force in 1995, it was an offence to obtain money or ‘pecuniary advantage’ by deception. It is still an offence under the Fraud Act 2006.

Fraud is defined as a false representation by means of a statement or conduct made knowingly or recklessly to gain a material advantage.

FORGERY: Under the Forgery Act 1981, it is an offence to procure falsified financial documents with the intention to deceive.

Blackmail: Under the Theft Act 1968, a person is guilty of blackmail if – with a view to a gain to himself or with the intent to cause loss to another – he makes an ‘unwarranted demand with menaces’.

Earl Spencer has suggested Diana may have been a victim of blackmail.

CONSPIRACY TO PERVERT THE COURSE OF JUSTICE: If Bashir’s behaviour is considered to amount to fraud or forgery, any BBC executives knowing he had used forged documents and made false allegations face a possible charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. There is also a separate offence of aiding and abetting a crime.

 

He added: ‘That is certainly something which some may be suspicious about. I just want transparency and answers from the BBC.’

Amid the continuing fallout from the Dyson report, Mr Knight suggested Lord Hall, the former BBC director-general who conducted a botched investigation into Bashir’s conduct, would have to consider stepping back from public life.

On Friday, former BBC executive Tim Suter, who was part of the 1996 internal investigation, stepped down from his board role with media watchdog Ofcom.

Mr Knight said he suspected Lord Hall would now be having ‘conversations’ as to continuing as the chairman of the board of trustees at the National Gallery.

He told Times Radio: ‘If you had been subject to a report of this nature, this damning, I think you would consider whether or not you should take a step back from the public stage.’

Despite the furore, Mr Knight said he did not believe it would affect the BBC’s negotiations with the Government over the licence fee.

He said: ‘I think that the Government is committed to renewing the charter. There will be a discussion over whether or not they offer a flat cash offer to the BBC or whether or not they have an inflation-linked increase to the licence fee.

‘But I don’t think, per se, this scandal will impact those negotiations.’

While Mr Knight said there was a need for reform, he questioned a proposal by former BBC chairman Lord Grade for a new editorial board.

‘I do wonder whether or not it will be a talking shop full of people with big salaries. The BBC does have a lot of boards,’ he told the Today programme.

‘What I would propose is that Tim Davie thinks again on his decision to remove the head of editorial policy of the executive committee.

‘I do have concerns with the BBC that editorial policy does not have a loud enough voice and there is a bit of kowtowing to talent.’

Former BBC chief operating officer Ms Thomson said it was crucial that the BBC acted quickly to restore trust.

She said whistleblowers in the Diana case should be ‘dealt with properly and compensated if necessary, properly apologised to’.

She also called for a series of measures to regain trust ‘among BBC journalists and staff as well as among the public’.

On any changes to the BBC, she said suggested introducing a new non-executive board member with dedicated responsibility for news and editorial matters.

She said they could be ‘the face of transparency’ and available to those who would like to whistleblow.

Meanwhile pop star Sir Cliff, who sued the BBC over coverage of a police raid on his home, told the Times those involved deserve ‘all that must surely come their way’.

And Mr Dimbleby, who bagged an explosive interview with Prince Charles in 1994 where the Royal admitted adultery, branded Bashir a ‘consummate conman and liar’.

The veteran journalist told the Today programme: ‘He played on her existing fears of vulnerabilities.

‘She was a very troubled, and well known by that time to be, a damaged woman and he very skillfully played on those to secure that interview.’

He added: ‘It is of course true that to draw a line directly from that interview to her death is perhaps to oversimplify, a very complex and awful situation.

‘I don’t think that that, however, should remove from the BBC, for instance, the responsibility that it has actually, in the form of Tim Davey and others, accepted for the past, terrible errors.’

Prime Minister Mr Johnson last night put the BBC on notice there must be no repeat of the Bashir scandal as it faced a radical overhaul of its governing structures.

It emerged the corporation could be compelled to set up a separate, independent editorial board to oversee its journalism.

Sources close to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden warned that the BBC’s director-general Tim Davie and its chairman Richard Sharp had to ‘really grip’ the issue and ‘demonstrate’ a commitment to meaningful change.

Separately, the Daily Mail can reveal Mr Dowden has warned the BBC plans to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee are still on the table if it fails to represent the whole of the country more effectively.

He has indicated that the threat would not be lifted until it has also shown it was spending licence fee payers’ money more wisely.

Lord Dyson’s report into Bashir’s 1995 Panorama interview with Princess Diana triggered a full-scale existential crisis for the corporation yesterday.

Mr Johnson intensified the pressure, saying: ‘I’m obviously concerned by the findings of Lord Dyson’s report – I’m very grateful to him for what he has done.

‘I can only imagine the feelings of the Royal Family and I hope very much that the BBC will be taking every possible step to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.’

The corporation last night pointed out that it had already gone through ‘two substantial changes’ in governance since the mid-1990s.

But it could yet be pushed into a major overhaul in the way its editorial decisions are overseen.

On Thursday night Mr Dowden warned the BBC of ‘further governance reforms’.

And yesterday it emerged that the corporation could be compelled to set up a separate editorial board to deal with complaints as a result of the Bashir scandal.

Ministers are understood to be receptive to the ‘thoughtful solution’ proposed yesterday by former BBC chairman Lord Grade, which would see a distinct board created, filled with ‘independent, outside, specialist’ journalists, who could hold the BBC to account.

Lord Grade told the Today programme it was ‘not enough’ for the BBC to ‘utter the usual platitudes’ about learning lessons, saying it had to be ‘a serious governance structural change inside the BBC’.

Mr Johnson intensified the pressure, saying: ‘I’m obviously concerned by the findings of Lord Dyson’s report – I’m very grateful to him for what he has done’

He said the BBC’s journalism ‘should not be answerable to itself’ and a separate editorial board under the main board could ‘hold BBC journalism to account’.

This could review matters such as its coverage of subjects including elections, Brexit and the Middle East.

A source close to Mr Dowden said: ‘He wants Davie and Sharp to really grip this and demonstrate something like this could never happen again.

‘The Government thinks the Grade suggestion is a thoughtful solution. [Broadcasting watchdog] Ofcom has a corporate board and a content board – the BBC has corporate people but who is challenging the director-general and asking questions?’

The source added: ‘The BBC has taken a massive hit to its reputation, and while we should acknowledge there have been governance changes since the 1990s, we need to ask whether it could happen now. Should we be looking to strengthen the arrangements?’

Ofcom chief executive Dame Melanie Dawes said: ‘Lord Dyson’s findings are clearly of great concern and raise important questions about the BBC’s transparency and accountability.

‘Ofcom… will be discussing with the BBC what further actions may be needed to ensure that this situation can never be repeated.’

Separately, in an interview carried out before the publication of the Diana report, Mr Dowden told the Mail that the BBC needed to do more to ensure it properly represents areas of the country.

He said: ‘We haven’t taken decriminalisation [of non-payment of the licence fee] off the table.

‘But in doing that we do have to make sure that hard-working Mail readers who play by the rules and pay their licence fee aren’t disadvantaged because people that don’t pay the licence fee get away with it.’

Most of the BBC’s funding comes from the £159-a-year licence fee, and non-payment is a criminal offence which could lead to a jail term.

The BBC said in response to questions about its governance: ‘Since the mid-1990s we have had two substantial changes in BBC governance, which is now fundamentally different.

‘We now have a single board, clear responsibilities around editorial accountability, and external regulation from the industry regulator, Ofcom. Governance reviews are already built into the existing system and we will fully participate in the next one.’

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