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Bashir ‘has stepped down’

After first joining BBC 35 years ago he officially leaves on health grounds – days before inquiry report into smears and fake documents used to secure bombshell Diana Panaroma interview
Lured into his trust: Diana with Bashir in 1995
Lured into his trust: Diana with Bashir in 1995

LORD Dyson last night delivered his crunch report on the Princess Diana Panorama scandal - as Martin Bashir quit the BBC.

The retired judge handed in the results of his inquiry to corporation top brass at 6pm. It will be published next week.

Meanwhile, staff were told the BBC’s religion editor had resigned for health reasons.

Lord Dyson has spent six months probing allegations that Mr Bashir used rogue tactics to land his Panorama scoop with the princess in 1995.

The corporation commissioned the former Master of the Rolls to investigate last November after the Daily Mail revealed claims Mr Bashir had peddled royal smears and lies to trick Diana into the interview, in which she famously declared ‘there were three of us in this marriage’.

Last night a spokesman for the inquiry announced: ‘Lord Dyson has concluded his investigation and the report has been passed to the BBC for publication in due course.’

The bombshell report is expected to examine claims of a cynical cover-up mounted by BBC chiefs in 1996 after the Mail on Sunday revealed how Mr Bashir had used forged bank statements to lure the princess into his trust.

Former BBC director-general Tony Hall - who only left the post last August - is among those whose role has been scrutinised by Lord Dyson. Lord Hall led an initial inquiry in 1996 that was later branded a ‘whitewash’.

Yesterday Jonathan Munro, the BBC’s deputy director of news, told staff in an email that Mr Bashir, who has been on sick leave for months, had ‘stepped down’ and was ‘leaving the corporation’.

He added: ‘He let us know of his decision last month, just before being readmitted to hospital for another surgical procedure on his heart.

Diana, pictured the year before her infamous Panorama interview

‘Although he underwent major surgery toward the end of last year, he is facing some ongoing issues and has decided to focus on his health. We wish him a complete and speedy recovery.’

It is understood Mr Bashir, 58, who sold his London townhouse in November and moved to Winchester, telling colleagues it was a ‘sad way to retire’, did not receive any payoff.

Mr Bashir joined the BBC as a news correspondent in 1986 and moved to ITV in 1999. After a stint in America he rejoined the corporation in 2016 as religious affairs correspondent.

The former star reporter already knows of any criticisms levelled at him in the Dyson report.

He gave evidence to the inquiry, and as part of a formal process known as ‘Maxwellisation’ he was sent a courtesy letter containing an indication of the judge’s findings about him, offering a chance to reply before they were made public.

Mr Bashir, Lord Hall and all the other participants - including Diana’s brother Earl Spencer - will be given an opportunity to read the Dyson report two hours before it is made public next week.

The delivery of the Dyson report has also thrown into turmoil a plan for Panorama to broadcast a special investigation into itself.

The flagship current affairs show had commissioned veteran investigative journalist John Ware to make a programme about the Diana interview scandal and the claims that BBC chiefs had tried to hush it up.

The special was originally slated for broadcast a month ago, but was then delayed by the death of the Duke of Edinburgh.

A new plan to transmit the programme next Monday has now also been shelved. Mr Ware did not take calls or respond to messages yesterday.

A BBC source claimed the Panorama programme had been postponed rather than cancelled, and added that the reason for its delay was because of a ‘duty of care issue’. Companies owe a duty of care to their employees, particularly when they are on sick leave.

A third source with knowledge of the programme claimed: ‘Martin Bashir played the health card aggressively through his lawyers to block the Panorama being aired.’

The Dyson inquiry was prompted by revelations in the Mail last November. Diana’s brother Earl Spencer told how Mr Bashir had used a ruse involving faked bank statements to trick him into introducing the reporter to his sister.

Mr Bashir asked a graphic artist, Matt Weissler, to mock up the statements purportedly showing the earl’s head of security was receiving money from newspapers.

The BBC journalist was then accused of feeding the vulnerable princess a shocking list of lies to make her believe her own staff were betraying her too by selling information to the papers and the security services. Among the jaw-dropping claims, Mr Bashir allegedly showed Diana a fake abortion ‘receipt’ for royal nanny Tiggy Legge-Bourke - a preposterous slur.

He allegedly told the princess her husband was ‘in love’ with William and Harry’s nanny, among dozens of other smears designed to hook Diana into trusting him.

To secure his explosive interview, he also allegedly told her that her bodyguard was plotting against her, and MI6 had recorded Prince Charles and his private secretary planning the ‘end game’.

He was said to have lied that Prince Edward was having treatment for Aids at the Royal Marsden Hospital, and that the Queen was a ‘comfort eater’ with ‘heart problems’. Earl Spencer kept meticulous notes during the meeting, which he shared with Lord Dyson during his own interview with the former judge.

Another conundrum the Dyson inquiry was examining was a burglary Mr Weissler suffered soon afterwards - in which the only items stolen were computer disks containing the forged documents.

It is understood a number of witnesses have told the former judge they recall how shaken up the graphic artist was after his flat was raided.

Mr Weissler was later made the fall guy for the scandal, with the BBC board of governors presiding over a decision he would never work for the corporation again.

The BBC said it would not comment ahead of the publication of the Dyson report.


Timeline of a scandal

1986

Martin Bashir joins BBC as news correspondent and works on programmes including Songs of Praise, Public Eye and Panorama.

November 1995

The famous interview with Princess Diana turns Mr Bashir into TV’s hottest property.

1996

The Mail on Sunday reveals claims that Mr Bashir used faked bank documents to persuade Diana to talk. The BBC holds internal inquiry dismissed as a ‘whitewash’.

1999

Moves to ITV’s Tonight with Trevor McDonald. His scoops include interview with Stephen Lawrence suspects and documentary on Michael Jackson.

May 2004

Quits to host ABC’s Nightline in US. Suspended in 2008 after making ‘Asian babes’ remark at Asian American Journalists convention.

2010

Joins NBC News as an MSNBC anchor. He resigns in 2013 after controversial remarks about vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

2016

BBC re-hires Mr Bashir as religious affairs correspondent. He is later promoted to religion editor.

October 2020

Channel 4 documentary alleges there was ‘elaborate plot’ by Mr Bashir to trick Diana into talking.

November 7

The Daily Mail reveals a shocking dossier held by Diana’s brother Earl Spencer revealing alleged royal smears, lies and tricks that Mr Bashir used to land his interview.

November 18

BBC orders six-month inquiry by former judge Lord Dyson.

May 14, 2021

The BBC announces Mr Bashir has quit on health grounds.