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As the repercussions of a highly critical review into the broadcast of Princess Diana’s infamous 1995 Panorama interview continue to ripple, the justice secretary Robert Buckland has suggested she was “inveigled” into it.
The minister this morning appeared to suggest the BBC interview with the Princess of Wales “perhaps might not have happened” if “very high standards” had been adhered to at the time. He told LBC:
Well, I think a lot of us will often say that sometimes the cover-up is worse than the crime. Having listened to both the Duke of Cambridge and the Duke of Sussex, you are struck I think by, at a family level, the sense of tragedy and loss that comes through in their statements.
Let’s just imagine it was any family, not the royal family – I think we should be just as indignant and concerned if somebody who was vulnerable was inveigled into giving an interview that perhaps might not have happened if standards of probity and honesty had been maintained.
And then of course it is compounded by, as you described, a cover-up or a failure to put right and to apply the very high standards that have got to apply to a public service broadcaster like the BBC.
The inquiry into the broadcast, conducted by former supreme court judge John Dyson, found that interviewer Martin Bashir had engaged in “deceitful behaviour” by commissioning fake bank statements to land the interview – a “serious breach” of the BBC’s editorial guidelines.
In his 127-page report, the judge also criticised the conduct of Tony Hall, the corporation’s former director-general, who was accused of overseeing a flawed and “woefully ineffective” internal probe into the issue. As the then head of BBC News, he was aware Bashir had told “serious and unexplained lies” about what he had done to persuade the princess to speak to him, the report said.
The BBC’s current director general, Tim Davie, said the corporation accepted “in full” the report. “Although the report states that Diana, Princess of Wales, was keen on the idea of an interview with the BBC, it is clear that the process for securing the interview fell far short of what audiences have a right to expect,” he said.
The BBC has a handwritten note from Diana stating that the documents played “no part in her decision to take part in the interview”.
When asked whether Bashir had committed “fraud” with the fake bank statements, Buckland said the documents were “hugely serious”:
I think looking at the findings of Lord Dyson, there are clearly some very serious issues arise. I’m not going to comment on whether criminal offences have been committed here. I think that is a matter for the police and the investigating authorities.
You wouldn’t expect me to opine about that. But I’m sure you’ve looked, like me, at the executive summary, it is a 127-page report and you see some of the words being used there – about false documents, forgery etcetera – these are hugely serious matters that don’t just raise questions about the individuals and the journalists involved but also the senior leadership, sadly, who made decisions that Lord Dyson has I think rightly scrutinised and has found to be wrong.
So there is a lot of work for the BBC to do in order to make good what happened here.