The BBC’s former director-general ‘led the cover-up’ around Martin Bashir’s world exclusive interview with Princess Diana, it has been claimed.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead, 70, was identified in 60 pages of previously secret documents as being a ‘key figure’ who helped protect the BBC journalist following his explosive 1995 interview with the royal.
It came after concerns were raised by three Panorama journalists about Mr Bashir at the time.
The latest accusation comes as a report, which will be published this afternoon, is understood to have found that Mr Bashir, 58, ’employed deceitful methods’ and ‘breached’ guidelines to secure his famous interview with the royal.
The findings could now pave the way for huge damages claims from BBC and royal staff who lost their positions as a result of the explosive interview, royal staff claim.
A year after the interview, an internal inquiry led by Lord Hall found that Mr Bashir was an ‘honest man’ and there was ‘no question of Mr Bashir trying to mislead or do anything improper’.
Lord Dyson was commissioned six months ago to examine whether Princess Diana would have given the historic 1995 interview had it not been for Mr Bashir’s underhand tactics
The BBC’s former director-general, Lord Hall of Birkenhead (left), 70, has been accused of protecting Martin Bashir (right) following his famous 1995 interview
Documents seen by Lord Dyson of minutes taken from meetings of the BBC news and current affairs board after the controversial interview showed three Panorama journalists, who later left the show, raised concerns about Mr Bashir’s conduct.
Lord Hall is also accused of telling graphic designer Matthew Weissler, who helped Mr Bashir create the mocked-up bank statements, that he ‘will not work for the BBC again’.
A BBC source told The Times: ‘What happened at Panorama with Bashir set the culture of the BBC where staff were afraid to raise concerns about wrongdoing.
‘It also set the format for how far you can push it and then cover up to get a scoop.
‘It is not acceptable for a licence fee- funded organisation. The whistleblowers were axed and those who covered up were promoted.’
The six-month inquiry, which was conducted by former judge Lord Dyson, is expected to reveal that Mr Bashir mocked up bank statements that were shown to Princess Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, in order to win the trust of the royal.
The independent report is also expected to condemn senior BBC executives who worked at the corporation at the time over allegations of a cover-up, The Telegraph reports.
Lord Dyson was commissioned six months ago to examine whether Princess Diana would have given the historic 1995 interview, in which she famously declared ‘there were three of us in this marriage’, had it not been for Mr Bashir’s underhand tactics.
He will this afternoon publish his report into the scandal after broadening his inquiry amid concerns about the journalist’s wider practices.
Then a long-awaited Panorama documentary investigating how Mr Bashir allegedly lied and cheated to land his Diana exclusive will be broadcast this evening.
A source told The Telegraph: ‘It will be a true eye opener. This could be the BBC’s phone hacking moment.’
During the inquiry, notes given to the judge by Princess Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, which were seen by The Telegraph, detailed a conversation between Mr Bashir and Princess Diana prior to the famous interview.
It included a list of allegations made by Mr Bashir that Princess Diana’s phones had been bugged and that she was being followed.
The BBC’s controller of editorial policy in 1995, Richard Ayre, told The Telegraph: ‘The use of deceit in making factual programmes would have been permissible only in the case of investigating serious crime… and where prima facie evidence of the guilt of that person being investigated had already been obtained.
‘Those circumstances clearly don’t apply to an interview with the Princess of Wales.’
Lord Dyson warned he would follow the evidence – even if that meant straying from his brief, it can be revealed. A document seen by the Daily Mail shows he refused to be restricted to a ‘narrow’ investigation.
A second source suggested the eminent former Master of the Rolls had taken an interest in Mr Bashir’s wider career.
After allegedly using dirty tricks to convince Diana to be interviewed for Panorama, the reporter went on to other high-profile scoops including a controversial documentary on Michael Jackson.
The disgraced pop singer later complained he felt tricked by Mr Bashir.
The reporter was accused of telling shocking lies to relatives of those murdered by GP Harold Shipman and peddling damaging ‘untruths’ to Scotland Yard about the Soho bombings case, it was claimed.
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
Mr Bashir is accused of using the fake bank statements to gain Earl Spencer’s trust
It is not known whether Lord Dyson has addressed these claims in the report, or drawn any broader conclusions about Mr Bashir’s modus operandi.
But after the BBC commissioned him to probe the circumstances of the Diana interview, the judge vowed not to be constrained by that one episode.
A source close to the inquiry said Lord Dyson had pledged to ‘conduct a fearless investigation’ and was ‘determined to get to the truth’.
They added that he would not adopt a ‘narrow interpretation’ of his terms of reference, which he regarded as just a ‘framework’. Lord Dyson would also pursue evidence ‘covering a wider timeframe’ if he wanted to.
Lord Dyson was commissioned six months ago to examine whether Diana would have given the historic 1995 interview – in which she declared ‘there were three of us in this marriage’, hastening the royal divorce – had it not been for Mr Bashir’s underhand tactics.
Mr Bashir is still the BBC’s religion editor, although he handed in his notice last month after a series of health scares.
The Mail revealed last November how he spun an extraordinary web of deceit to clinch his interview.
He allegedly told a string of lies to gain Diana’s trust, including cruelly playing to her paranoia by pretending he had evidence that her staff were spying on her for newspapers and MI5.
It is claimed the lurid smears included an allegation that Prince Edward was being treated for Aids at a London hospital, that the Queen was a ‘comfort eater’ with ‘heart problems’, and that Prince Charles was ‘in love’ with his children’s nanny Tiggy Legge-Bourke and went on a secret holiday with her.
It comes as Princess Diana’s friend Simone Simmons , 61, who also gave evidence during the inquiry, claimed Mr Bashir ‘conned’ the royal into giving the interview.
Ms Simmons told The Sun: ‘Diana was conned into doing the programme, and it wasn’t just forged bank documents.’
The BBC was last night wracked in turmoil over the Panorama special into Mr Bashir’s Diana interview slated for tonight.
It had ‘bravely’ commissioned veteran investigative reporter John Ware six months ago to probe the scandal – in effect, Panorama investigating itself.
The investigation will tell the ‘inside story’ of how Mr Bashir got his interview.
Titled Princess Diana, Martin Bashir and the BBC, it will look at the BBC’s response after it learned he had faked bank statements and features ‘exclusive interviews and revelations from internal BBC documents’.
Director-general Tim Davie had shelved the programme last Friday, leading to a chorus of condemnation.
Earlier this week, sources then said the programme would be aired the same day as the Dyson report was published.
Yesterday there were frantic meetings involving BBC lawyers. Last night the corporation put out a revision to its schedules, with The One Show taken off air at 7pm to make way for the documentary.