BBC accused of ’25-year cover up’ after tricking Princess Di

The BBC has been accused of “a 25-year cover up” over Martin Bashir’s interview with Princess Diana.

Solihull MP Julian Knight said the deceit used by Mr Bashir to secure the interview had “more than a whiff of criminality about it.”

And he accused the journalist of “callously scamming a mentally vulnerable woman”.

Mr Knight (Con) was able to secure a special debate about the scandal by asking an “urgent question” in the House of Commons, in his role as Chair of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee.

Princess Diana during her interview on BBC TV programme Panorama

A report by Lord Dyson, a former master of the rolls, said journalist Martin Bashir used “deceitful conduct” to obtain the 1995 interview which was then covered up by a “woefully ineffective” internal investigation.

Mr Bashir showed Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, forged bank statements appearing to show payments by a newspaper group to a former member of his staff.

The report says this was to gain Earl Spencer’s confidence so he would introduce Mr Bashir to Diana. It also appears to have fuelled Princess Diana’s belief that she could not trust the people around her.

When questioned by BBC bosses, Mr Bashir repeatedly denied showing these documents to Earl Spencer.

But he was rehired in 2016 as religious affairs correspondent – later promoted to religion editor – even though it was known he lied to the internal inquiry.

Mr Knight said: “The BBC re-hired Bashir who they knew was a liar, promoted him, and, extraordinarily for the BBC, allowed him to moonlight for their main commercial rival.”

He asked: “Who precisely was involved in the 25 year cover up?” Mr Knight added: “Was Bashir rehired in essence so he would keep his mouth shut?”

Culture Secretary Olive Dowden has warned the BBC must change. He said: “Groupthink in any organisation results in a lack of challenge and poor decision making. That’s why cultural change must be a focus for the director general and new chair.”

But some MPs fear the Government may use the scandal as an opportunity to attack the BBC, for example by ending the licence fee and turning it into a subscription service instead.

Birmingham Hall Green MP Steve McCabe said it would be “a little ridiculous” for the current government to punish the BBC for events that took place 25 years ago.

In a statement, the BBC board admitted the failings set out in the 127-page document and said it hoped to ensure the “mistakes of the past” were not repeated.

It said: “We accepted Lord Dyson’s findings in full and reiterate the apology we have offered to all those affected by the failings identified.

“We recognise the impact that the events it describes has had on so many people, not least those whose lives were personally affected by what happened.

“We also acknowledge that audiences had a right to expect better from the BBC.”

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