The BBC has pledged to hold a full independent investigation into how Martin Bashir obtained his career-defining interview with Princess Diana in 1995, following fresh claims that he produced fake documents and used other deceitful tactics to win the trust of her family.
Tim Davie, the corporation’s director general, confirmed that the terms of the investigation would be announced in the coming days: “The BBC is taking this very seriously and we want to get to the truth. We are in the process of commissioning a robust and independent investigation.”
The BBC has said Bashir is currently unable to answer questions as he is currently signed off work by his doctors. It said the journalist, currently employed as the BBC’s religion editor, is recovering from quadruple heart bypass surgery in addition to having “significant complications” after contracting Covid-19 earlier in the year.
The announcement follows weeks of campaigning by Diana’s brother Earl Spencer, who claims Bashir repeatedly deceived him in order to gain access to the royal as her marriage to Prince Charles collapsed. The subsequent interview made headlines around the world and turbo-charged Bashir’s career, as he won praise for a major journalistic scoop.
The BBC’s announcement comes as ITV prepares to air an interview with Matt Wiessler, a graphic designer who was asked by Bashir to mock-up the fake bank statements that allegedly helped the journalist secure his career-defining interview.
The false documents gave the impression that associates of the royal family were selling stories to newspapers, with Spencer saying this and other deceptions were the reason he introduced Bashir – then a relatively obscure Panorama journalist – to his sister.
The issue was investigated at the time, with the BBC’s former news chief Tony Hall clearing Bashir of wrongdoing in 1996, while telling the corporation’s board that the graphic designer who followed Bashir’s orders “will not work for the BBC again”.
Wiessler subsequently left the media and now works for bicycle design company in Devon. At the same time Bashir went on to have a successful journalistic career around the world, while Hall returned to the BBC as director general.
The graphic designer told the ITV documentary The Diana Interview: Revenge Of A Princess that he had been made to be the “fall guy” for Bashir’s actions: “I’m this guy that’s remembered for forging the document and I want to clear my name. I got a phone call from Martin Bashir and he wanted me to do a favour for him and it was really urgent and really important.
“Martin asked me to make up a couple of bank statements about people being paid to do surveillance that he needed the following day. And he did say that they were just going to be used as copies … I had never been briefed in that way before.”
Wiessler said he later became concerned about what he had been asked to do. This got worse when he came home to find his flat had been burgled, but only two computer discs had been taken: “I was absolutely freaked out … I searched through my computer files in the office and I couldn’t find any of the backups that I had made of the statements, that I had created for Martin.”
He added: “I became quite paranoid, because I thought there must be more to this statement story, than I can ever dream of. Because, why would this happen? Why would someone break in? And I wasn’t getting any clear answers from anyone. I’d never had a break-in before in my life. And I just thought someone was sending me a message or something.”
Wiessler also recalled meeting Bashir when the story of the faked bank statements was first reported 25 years: “… all he could think of doing, was saying to me, ‘Whatever you do, don’t go to the media. Carry on talking to us. We’re not doing anything… We didn’t do anything wrong. You’ve to trust us on this.’ I walked out of that restaurant, knowing that I had to go to the media. Because Martin was just simply in this instance, covering for himself.”
He said the incident had shaken his trust in the corporation: “In almost a naive way, I thought when you worked for the BBC, you were working for the greater good of everything. After this episode, almost all of that fell away, and I thought what it is really about is senior management and senior producers and presenters protecting themselves at all costs.
“I quite clearly felt that I was the one that was going to be the fall guy in this story. All I want is for the BBC in this instance to come forward and honestly make an apology. Because it’s had a huge impact.”