In a devastating letter, Charles Spencer expressed his outrage at the institution’s ‘sheer dishonesty’ and accused Martin Bashir, who secured the sensational interview for Panorama in 1995, of ‘yellow journalism’.
Earl Spencer also told director-general Tim Davie that Bashir showed him falsified bank accounts purporting to show – entirely wrongly – that two senior courtiers were being paid by the security services for information on his sister, in the hope it would win him an introduction to the princess.
Accusing the BBC of failing to accept the ‘full gravity of the situation’, the earl is demanding the BBC formally open an inquiry into the case.
He says the corporation owes both himself, the viewing public and, most importantly, the late princess a posthumous apology for the wholescale deception by a journalist working for its flagship news programme.
Princess Diana’s (pictured during her interview with Martin Bashir) brother has accused the BBC of a ‘whitewash’ over faked bank statements said to have helped land a historic interview with her
Bashir’s outrageous slur to Spencer about royal nanny’s ‘outdoor pursuits’
Bashir’s interview with Diana, in which she told him ‘there were three people in the marriage’ – a reference to her estranged husband’s relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles – attracted 23million viewers and was hailed as the greatest tell-all scoop of the 20th century.
But 25 years after she bared her soul, fresh allegations have emerged that the BBC obtained the scoop under a false pretext.
Before Mr Davie issued a partial apology last week, Mr Spencer had said it was ‘palpably untrue’ for the BBC to say the bank statements were irrelevant.
Bashir’s (pictured) interview with Diana, in which she told him ‘there were three people in the marriage’ – a reference to her estranged husband’s relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles – attracted 23million viewers and was hailed as the greatest tell-all scoop of the 20th century
In the email on October 23 he added: ‘If it were not for me seeing these statements, I would not have introduced Bashir to my sister.
‘In turn, he would have remained just one of thousands of journalists hoping that he/she had a tiny chance of getting her to speak to them, with no realistic prospect of doing so.’
Bashir has also been accused of exploiting the princess’s fears that her private conversations were being bugged by the secret services to garner a meeting.
The journalist first contacted Diana’s brother three months before the interview saying he was looking into ‘media ethics’. The earl went on to arrange a meeting between himself, his sister and Bashir at a friend’s apartment in London in September 1995.
He kept notes of the discussion and eventually warned his sister against dealings with Bashir over the sensational allegations he was making.
But by that time it was too late – and Diana was hooked.
The BBC eventually launched its own investigation into the faked document which concluded in April 1996 that: ‘The BBC has been able, independently, to verify that these documents were put to no use which had any bearing, direct or indirect, on the Panorama interview with the Princess of Wales.’ The review was overseen in part by Tony Hall, then head of news and current affairs, who retired as director-general in August.
But renewed publicity around the 25th anniversary of the interview and the airing again of the claims against Bashir, has prompted Earl Spencer to take up the cudgels again.
He has decided to go public with his anger after Tim Davie, the BBC’s director general, last week admitted to him that Bashir used a BBC graphic designer to draw up fake bank statements which he claimed showed that an employee of the aristocrat was being paid for information on his family. Mr Davie also apologised for this. But Earl Spencer says this was only the tip of the iceberg and Bashir had also shown him several other bank statements purporting – falsely – to show that two senior royal courtiers – Patrick Jephson, who worked for the princess as her private secretary, and Commander Richard Aylard, who worked for the Prince of Wales – had also received ‘very large payments alleged by Bashir to have come from the security services’.
Renewed publicity around the 25th anniversary of the interview and the airing again of the claims against Bashir, has prompted Earl Spencer (pictured with Diana and Prince Charles) to take up the cudgels again
But 25 years after she bared her soul, fresh allegations have emerged that the BBC obtained the scoop under a false pretext
Diana’s brother says the statements referring to his employee were irrelevant to Bashir securing the Panorama interview, and the falsified statements referring to the two palace staff were much more significant factors in that respect.
In response to the 1996 BBC enquiry, Bashir maintained the statements were shown to Earl Spencer after he had already agreed to introduce him to his sister with a view to securing an interview with her.
Diana’s brother (pictured, Earl Charles Spencer) says the statements referring to his employee were irrelevant to Bashir securing the Panorama interview, and the falsified statements referring to the two palace staff were much more significant factors in that respect
Charles Spencer insists this is a ‘lie’. He has also produced evidence of a letter written to him by Bashir, in which the journalist attempts to heap further pressure on both himself and Diana to co-operate, by referencing wholly false rumours that were circulating about her children’s nanny, Tiggy Legge-Bourke, having ‘recurring intimacy’ with a ‘particular individual’.
In his letter, Bashir makes a series of salacious claims and says Miss Legge-Bourke is ‘keen to divert much attention’. Earl Spencer tells Mr Davie that in light of the evidence he has, he believes that the BBC should take immediate action, saying: ‘Your piecemeal apology of Wednesday seems to be a way for you merely to say that you’ve apologised to me, rather than acceptance of the full gravity of this situation.
‘I am now formally asking for the BBC to open an enquiry into this matter, and I hope – among many other questions that need addressing – that it will get to the bottom of key, interconnected questions: why did Tony Hall’s enquiry not seek the truth from me?
‘Why did it bend over backwards to whitewash Bashir? Who knew the extent of his yellow journalism when securing what Hall calls the interview of the decade … or of the generation?’
He adds: ‘The sheer dishonesty of what I’ve seen in the BBC 25 years ago – both in Bashir and his colleague’s actions in securing the interview, and the whitewash under Tony Hall’s name – demands it.’
He also warns he will go public.
A BBC spokesman said: ‘We would never comment on or confirm private correspondence. As people know, Martin Bashir is seriously unwell at the moment.
‘The BBC is being as open as we can be about events from a quarter of a century ago.
‘Our records show the focus of the BBC’s investigations into these events was whether or not the Princess of Wales had been misled, and they show that the BBC’s key piece of information was the hand-written statement from the Princess of Wales, who said she hadn’t seen the mocked-up documents and they had played no part in her decision to take part in the interview.
‘None of this means the BBC won’t properly look at issues raised. If anyone has substantial new information they would like to share with us, we are encouraging them to do so. While Martin is unwell, however, we are unable to progress this further.’
Snared in a web of deceit: Earl Spencer says Martin Bashir claimed William wore a watch that recorded Diana, and said the Queen and Edward were terminally ill, writes RICHARD KAY
Even now, the words Earl Spencer uttered at the funeral of his sister Princess Diana have lost none of their power. The address is remembered both for its oratory and his solemn pledge of her ‘blood family’ to protect ‘her beloved boys William and Harry’.
Unspoken but implicit in his eulogy was that in protecting them, he was also seeking to defend his sister’s memory and her reputation.
No issue has tested that promise quite like the extraordinary saga of Diana, the BBC and Panorama. Lord Spencer was central to journalist Martin Bashir’s astonishing scoop broadcast to 23 million people 25 years ago this month.
The anniversary has been marked by a slew of television documentaries and newspaper accounts of the interview that shocked the world. But for Diana’s baby brother the whole enterprise was built on scandalous, indeed salacious lies, half-truths and the downright dishonesty of what he calls ‘yellow’ journalism.
As the Mail reveals today, Spencer is going on the warpath with the BBC and in his crosshairs is the Corporation’s most prestigious current affairs programme, once regarded as a beacon of integrity, truthfulness and decency in television journalism.
Even now, the words Earl Spencer uttered at the funeral of his sister Princess Diana (pictured with Patrick Jephson) have lost none of their power
He is demanding not just a posthumous apology from BBC chiefs for Diana and all those who were lied to, which he asserts includes not only himself but the global audience that watched the hour-long programme.
In addition, he wants a thorough investigation into the Bashir affair and a significant contribution from the Corporation’s coffers, enriched from worldwide sales of the interview, to be made to charities forever linked to Diana.
And in a letter to new director-general Tim Davie he repudiates what he calls his ‘piecemeal apology’, issued last week, which he said ‘seems to be a way for you merely to say that you’ve apologised to me, rather than acceptance of the full gravity of this situation’.
His explosive intervention has huge ramifications for the BBC and the standing of its previous director-general, Lord Hall, who first investigated claims against Martin Bashir’s techniques after allegations about fake documents emerged soon after the Panorama broadcast.
It cleared the reporter of any misconduct, claiming that it had a handwritten letter from Diana — subsequently lost — which stated that she had not been shown any false documents.
At the same time she had found the arrival of Tiggy Legge-Bourke (pictured with Prince Charles), a new nanny for her sons employed by Prince Charles, destabilising
Spencer, who was not even questioned by the inquiry, says that part of Lord Hall’s report, which he has been shown, was both ‘factually inaccurate’ and ‘illogical’, adding in a letter to the current BBC boss: ‘It skirts over the web of deceit spun by those in the organisation that you now control.’ These are damning and shattering words for a media organisation that takes great pride in its editorial standards.
It was the frenzy to mark the quarter-century of the Panorama film that prompted Lord Spencer to question the BBC’s version of events and his own role in how the programme came to be made 25 years ago.
And, crucially, it was the availability of Freedom of Information requests about its internal inquiry that has made him go public.
One of the keys things he noted was that Lord Hall had questioned Bashir alone. This struck him as wholly wrong and he decided to look at his own papers, which, like the historian he is, he had methodically kept ever since Mr Bashir approached him in the summer of 1995. The reporter contacted him explaining that for three months he had been investigating press behaviour for Panorama and was seeking an interview.
Spencer did not reply but after a follow-up message he arranged to meet Mr Bashir at Althorp, the Spencer family home in Northamptonshire, on August 31, exactly two years to the day before Diana’s death.
At the time, Lord Spencer had complaints about intrusion by red-top tabloids into his and his family’s private life. According to notes the Earl made at the time, Mr Bashir produced bank statements purporting to show payments from news organisations to his former head of security.
It was those statements that the BBC admitted had been faked by a graphic designer on the orders of Martin Bashir.
But at the same meeting Spencer was also told what he considered to be outrageous allegations about senior newspaper figures and explosively — and falsely — about royal courtiers. Specifically, Bashir mentioned two men, Commander Richard Aylard and Patrick Jephson, respectively the private secretaries to the Prince of Wales and the Princess of Wales.
He claimed, according to Spencer’s notes, that Cdr Aylard had tape recordings of Diana, which had been handed to him at a London restaurant, and that two of her friends were reporting on her movements to him.
Further, he said that Aylard and Jephson had business connections: Jephson was said to be a non-executive director of a company of which Aylard was a board member. The reporter, according to Spencer, alleged that both men had received large sums of money from the security services.
The Earl’s notes of the meeting, which he made at the time, claim that Bashir had bank statements relating to the payments.
He also claimed that the security services were tapping two of Diana’s private telephone numbers and that a member of the Harbour Club, the Chelsea gym where she worked out, was passing information to journalists.
The names of Fleet Street figures featured prominently, including an allegation of paedophilia against a once distinguished columnist and another who was said to have set up, fraudulently, shell companies to channel cash.
So fantastic were these stories that Spencer later rang Bashir’s Panorama boss to check his credentials. He was told he was one of the programme’s most accomplished operatives. Furthermore, he was assured that what Bashir had told him was true.
Inevitably, this meeting was just the precursor. Spencer contacted his sister and set in train the events that led directly to the Panorama interview.
Almost two years into her separation, Diana was at a vulnerable time in her life. Allegations about her bombarding the wife of art dealer Oliver Hoare with silent phone calls and an apparent romance with the newly-married England rugby captain Will Carling had damaged her reputation.
At the same time she had found the arrival of Tiggy Legge-Bourke, a new nanny for her sons employed by Prince Charles, destabilising. The younger woman had formed a close and affectionate relationship with the boys and Diana, frankly, was jealous.
These were key moments when she agreed to meet her brother and the BBC reporter at a flat in South Kensington on September 19. That was the day Spencer introduced the two. He later recalled how excited the BBC man was. Almost from the off, according to Lord Spencer, the allegations came pouring out. He noted Bashir saying that MI6 was bugging both Diana’s car and her home at Kensington Palace.
Again, he mentioned Aylard and Jephson and other figures known to Diana, allegedly including her then driver who had planted the bug on her car. Then came the bombshell about Tiggy. Spencer, a former reporter himself, kept a full note which later ran to ten pages, and wrote down the words ‘baby’. There had been a miscarriage or an abortion.
The implication was as preposterous as it was cruel. It was also demonstrably untrue.
Nevertheless, this paper trail discloses the only documentary evidence of a false rumour which spurred on some of the most hideous tensions between the prince and princess. As this paper’s royal reporter at the time, I remember how brittle the relationship between the estranged royal couple had become.
Even now, the black-and-white words on the fax are shocking, but back then they were like a ticking timebomb for Diana and something exploded in her mind.
Three months later, the princess — and Charles — were hosting their annual staff Christmas party (despite separation they kept it up for appearances’ sake) at the Lanesborough Hotel at Hyde Park Corner. Tiggy was there. Diana approached her and said: ‘So sorry to hear about the baby . . .’
Just seven words but devastating for the nanny. The story was bound to get out and when it did, a month later, Tiggy — honour-bound to defend her good name — launched a legal action against the Princess of Wales.
It was a moment of madness for Diana. But was it sowed that afternoon in the South Kensington flat? Certainly many of the princess’s friends believe so to this day. For his part, Spencer thought the allegations too fantastical to be possibly true.
More extraordinary claims were made: that the Queen was terminally ill with heart disease and that Prince Edward had an incurable illness.
There was more. Bashir, according to Spencer, claimed that Prince William, Diana’s 13-year-old son, had recently been given a new Swatch watch. It contained, according to the Earl’s notes, a recording device. In short, it was being claimed that William was spying on his mother.
It was now 5.30pm and the meeting that had started at 4pm was winding up. By then, Spencer was convinced Bashir had been lying.
At one point a former police bodyguard’s name was mentioned. Spencer noted that Bashir said the detective had been using prostitutes at the Langham Hilton hotel. This rang a bell. At their first meeting prostitutes and the same hotel had been mentioned but this time concerning a journalist.
He told his sister: ‘I’m sorry for wasting your time Duch [the Spencer family nickname for Diana].’ The princess replied: ‘Don’t worry.’
But if Spencer thought that was to be the end of things he was wrong. Although he never spoke or saw Bashir again, the BBC man still sent him notes and left messages.
One week later he received the fax, which the Mail reveals today.
Addressed to ‘Charles’ and signed ‘Martin’, it purports to be how St James’s Palace was dealing with the swirling rumours about Tiggy, rumours that in truth barely existed if at all.
In it he writes of a ‘recurring intimacy between her [Tiggy] and a particular individual’. The fax goes on: ‘One aide witnessed outdoor pursuits of a different kind.’
It then suggests the palace will brief a friend that Tiggy’s recent weight loss was because of a gluten intolerance and that she had been ‘repeatedly bombarded by nuisance messages on her radio pager’, adding ‘there can only be one obvious culprit’. The implication was that this was Diana doing to Tiggy what she had been accused of doing to Oliver Hoare.
Bashir ends the fax: ‘I think you should inform your sister asap.’
Spencer did nothing but now believes he was merely a smokescreen because the BBC man was now regularly dealing with Diana directly. ‘I was a bluff,’ he has told friends.
Exactly five weeks later and Diana had agreed to be interviewed — something that Lord Spencer claims was never originally on the table.
Charles Spencer has had 25 years to reflect on the enormity of Panorama and his own role in it. He believes Diana was lured into giving the notorious interview by someone who played on her vulnerability with falsehoods and that she was a victim of a despicable trap. Now he wants justice for his sister’s memory.
The question is: will he get it?