Martin Bashir claimed that Princess Diana gave him key information contained in fake bank statements which he used to gain her brother Earl Spencer’s trust and secure his bombshell 1995 Panorama interview.
The hoax bank statements are at the heart of a six month probe, which was led by retired judge Lord Dyson, into allegations that the BBC’s former religion editor used rogue tactics to land his scoop with the princess.
The statements showed fake payments from a newspaper and from an offshore company totalling £10,500 going into a bank account of a company owned by Earl Spencer’s former head of security, Alan Waller.
Bashir is accused of using them to gain Earl Spencer’s trust and persuade him to introduce him to his sister in order to land an exclusive interview, which she used to make incendiary claims about her marriage to Prince Charles.
In April 1996, Matt Wiessler, the graphics designer who mocked up the bank statements on Bashir’s orders, was made a scapegoat and sacked.
The BBC commissioned the former Master of the Rolls to investigate last November amid claims Bashir peddled royal smears and lies to trick Diana into the interview.
Lord Dyson’s much-anticipated report was delivered to corporation top brass at the weekend, amid news of Bashir’s resignation as religion editor on grounds of ill-health. It is expected to be published this week.
Diana, Princess of Wales, during her interview with Martin Bashir for the BBC in 1995
Martin Bashir who is stepping down as the BBC’s religion editor on the grounds of ill-health
The statements showed fake payments from a newspaper and from an offshore company totalling £10,500 going into a bank account of a company owned by Alan Waller, the former head of security for Princess Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer
Timeline of the Diana-Panorama 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.
The Telegraph reports that Bashir defended the use of the mocked-up bank statements by insisting he only did it after being given the information by the princess.
He told Lord Dyson that Diana was the source of the claims that payments were being made into the account of Earl Spencer’s ex-head of security. She later withdrew claims about the payments, Bashir is said to have alleged.
Waller has denied ever receiving the payments and told the Telegraph: ‘This man [Bashir] has become a multi-millionaire by using me. I am the fall guy.
‘Bashir has effectively stolen my identity; stolen my banking information and then used it to frame me as the fall guy. That is exactly what he has done. He has framed me thinking I would never find out. It has had a devastating effect on me.’
Bashir is also understood to have told the retired judge that he mocked up the statements because it was common for Panorama journalists to do so at the time. He claimed they were useful to keep in a file for any future probe by the broadcaster’s flagship news show.
However, it is unlikely that all the information came from Diana, as one of the companies which allegedly made payments to Waller was an offshore business that Bashir became familiar with following a Panorama investigation.
Lord Dyson is investigating whether the statements and other methods deployed by Bashir were instrumental in securing the 1995 interview, in which Diana rocked the Royal Family by saying ‘there were three of us in this marriage’ – a reference to Camilla Parker-Bowles, who became the Duchess of Cornwall.
Diana divorced Prince Charles the following summer and died in a car crash in Paris in August 1997.
Lord Dyson has interviewed all the key players, including Lord Hall, who was head of news at the time and went on to become director-general until he stood down in August last year. Lord Hall led an initial inquiry in 1996 that was later branded a ‘whitewash’.
Lord Dyson was also given access to BBC archives to investigate the claims. His report is expected to examine claims of a cynical cover-up mounted by BBC executives in 1996 after the Mail on Sunday revealed allegations that Bashir had used fake bank statements to land an interview with the princess.
It comes amid reports of an explosive document which reveals how BBC bosses plotted to ‘pick off’ Panorama staff who exposed Bashir’s tactics.
The memo suggests executives discussed ‘troublemakers’ and how to get rid of them ‘one by one’. Panorama reporters had come forward to blow the whistle on Bashir’s use of forged bank statements to secure his Diana interview.
But instead of being thanked, the staffers were reportedly told by the programme’s editor it was not any of their ‘f****** business’. Then what critics believe was a cover-up was launched, starting with an alleged cull to get rid of the whistleblowers.
According to a source familiar with the new document, which is from minutes of a news and current affairs board meeting that month, bosses discussed embarking on a ‘disciplinary’ route to tackle the whistleblowers.
But it noted that they would need ‘proof’ and suggested an alternative that would instead ‘pick off’ these people ‘one by one’.
Bashir is accused of using the fake bank statements to gain Earl Spencer’s trust
Lord Dyson is investigating whether the statements and other methods deployed by Bashir were instrumental in securing the 1995 interview
Well-placed sources who were at the BBC at the time say a number of those who raised concerns with bosses about Bashir’s behaviour were forced off the show in the following months.
Lord Dyson is believed to have had access to the document. It is not known whether he will refer to it in his bombshell report.
But it chimes with a previously released dossier showing that corporation chiefs had vowed to ‘deal with leakers and remove persistent troublemakers’.
Meanwhile, the row over a new Panorama investigation into the Diana interview scandal due to have been broadcast last night – but shelved on the orders of director-general Tim Davie – intensified yesterday.
The BBC won praise for commissioning Panorama to, in effect, investigate itself.
Veteran investigative reporter John Ware spent five months preparing a half-hour programme to be broadcast ahead of the Dyson report.
But then Davie pulled the show last Friday, the same day it announced that Bashir was quitting the BBC as religion editor.
Last November the BBC commissioned former Supreme Court judge Lord Dyson (pictured) to probe allegations that the corporation covered up the trail of deceit by its reporter
Diana and Prince Charles, after announcing their engagement at Buckingham Palace in 1981
Some corporation sources said the decision was ‘ludicrous’, and Diana’s brother Earl Spencer, a key interviewee on the programme, voiced his anger on Twitter.
Last night there were signs the BBC was on the verge of a humiliating U-turn. It is understood the corporation intends to broadcast the Panorama show after all, on the same day as the Dyson report, albeit in the evening.
The U-turn would make a mockery of the decision to postpone it from last night, if the delay turns out to be only 48 or 72 hours.
A BBC spokesman has explained the postponement by saying it was because of a ‘significant duty of care issue’ – believed to refer to Bashir, who has been on sick leave following heart surgery.
It is understood the journalist was back in hospital last week. A friend of Bashir said yesterday that he was ‘very low’ and was ‘very worried about Dyson’.
The peer was asked to uncover the truth about Bashir’s tactics in winning the 1995 Diana scoop. Bashir is accused of peddling lies and smears to persuade a vulnerable Diana to give her world-famous interview that November.
One source said it was ‘astonishing’ that the BBC had written down in an official document the way in which it was going to target members of its own staff.
A spokesman for the BBC said last night: ‘The BBC is determined to get to the truth about the circumstances surrounding the Panorama interview in 1995 and has commissioned Lord Dyson to carry out a fully independent investigation.’