Martin Bashir reportedly told an inquiry 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 famous 1995 Panorama interview.
The hoax bank statements are at the heart of an inquiry which was led by retired judge Lord Dyson into the conduct of former BBC religion editor Bashir in securing his world exclusive interview 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, who went on to make bombshell claims in the subsequent interview 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 report by Lord Dyson, former Master of the Rolls, is due to be published this week, and is expected to contain heavy criticism of Bashir, 58.
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
Bashir resigned as the BBC’s religion editor on grounds of ill-health, having suffered from coronavirus and undergone a quadruple heart bypass.
The Telegraph reports that Bashir defended the use of the mocked-up statements by insisting he only did it after being given the information by the princess.
He allegedly 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 last year: ‘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.’
The former BBC religion editor 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 allegedly said they were useful to keep in a file for any future probe by the broadcaster’s flagship news programme.
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 Paris in 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. He was also given access to BBC archives.
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
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’.
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 Mr Davie pulled the show last Friday, the same day it announced that Bashir, 58, was quitting the BBC as religion editor.
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.’