Earl Spencer has said he “draws a line” between the Panorama interview with his sister Diana, Princess of Wales and her death two years later.
An inquiry found the BBC covered up “deceitful behaviour” used by journalist Martin Bashir to secure his headline-making world exclusive, and “fell short of high standards of integrity and transparency”.
The journalist was in “serious breach” of the BBC’s producer guidelines when he faked bank statements and showed them to Earl Spencer to gain access to the princess, a report by Lord Dyson said.
‘Diana did lose trust in really key people’
Earl Spencer told a new Panorama programme that the consequences of Diana’s decision to do the interview contributed to her death in a car crash in Paris on August 31 1997.
Diana and her lover Dodi Fayed died when their car crashed in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel as they were being pursued by the paparazzi.
Earl Spencer told the programme: “The irony is that I met Martin Bashir on the 31st of August 1995, because exactly two years later she died, and I do draw a line between the two events.
“It’s quite clear from the introduction that I sat in on the 19th of September 1995 everyone was going to be made untrustworthy, and I think that Diana did lose trust in really key people.
“This is a young girl in her mid-30s who has lived this extraordinarily turbulent and difficult time in the public eye.
“She didn’t know who to trust and in the end, when she died two years later, she was without any form of real protection.”
The BBC has written to the royal family to apologise for the circumstances surrounding the interview – in which Diana said: “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded” – and the corporation has returned the awards it received.
Bashir won a Bafta in 1996 for the interview.
The BBC said: “The 1995 Panorama interview received a number of awards at the time.
“We do not believe it is acceptable to retain these awards because of how the interview was obtained.”
Bafta said in a statement: “We understand and accept the BBC’s decision on returning awards for this programme.”
The corporation has also sent personal apologies to the Prince of Wales, the dukes of Cambridge and Sussex, and Earl Spencer.
Bashir commissioned documents purporting to show payments into the bank account of Alan Waller, a former employee of Earl Spencer, Commander Patrick Jephson, Diana’s private secretary, and Commander Richard Aylard, private secretary to the Prince of Wales, according to Lord Dyson.
Lord Dyson, former master of the rolls and head of civil justice, was appointed to look into the circumstances surrounding the interview.
The report said: “By showing Earl Spencer the fake Waller and Jephson/Aylard statements and informing him of their contents, Mr Bashir deceived and induced him to arrange a meeting with Princess Diana. By gaining access to Princess Diana in this way, Mr Bashir was able to persuade her to agree to give the interview.”
An internal investigation by the BBC into the matter in 1996 was “woefully ineffective”, it added.
The report found the BBC inquiry “did not scrutinise Mr Bashir’s account with the necessary degree of scepticism and caution”, despite the fact he “had lied three times when he said that he had not shown the fake statements to Earl Spencer”.
It also said Bashir was “unable or unwilling” to offer a credible explanation of why he had commissioned the fake statements and why he had shown them to Earl Spencer, and Earl Spencer was not approached to give his version of what had happened.
The report said: “They accepted the account that Mr Bashir gave them as truthful.”
Lord Dyson added: “I have concluded that, without justification, the BBC covered up in its press logs such facts as it had been able to establish about how Mr Bashir secured the interview, and failed to mention the issue at all on any news programme, and thereby fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark.”
Former director-general Lord Tony Hall, who was director of BBC news and current affairs when the Diana interview was screened, has apologised, saying: “I have read Lord Dyson’s report and I accept that our investigation 25 years ago into how Panorama secured the interview with Princess Diana fell well short of what was required.
“In hindsight, there were further steps we could and should have taken following complaints about Martin Bashir’s conduct.
“I was wrong to give Martin Bashir the benefit of the doubt, basing that judgment as I did on what appeared to be deep remorse on his part.
“Throughout my 35-year career at the BBC, I have always acted in ways I believe were fair, impartial and with the public interest front and centre.
“While Lord Dyson does not criticise my integrity, I am sorry that our investigation failed to meet the standards that were required.”
A handwritten note from Diana on Kensington Palace notepaper, which was part of the evidence in the inquiry, said Bashir did not show her any documents or give her any information “that I was not previously aware of”.
She said she took part in the interview “without any undue pressure” and had “no regrets concerning the matter”.
Bashir has apologised for faking the documents and said it was “a stupid thing do to do”, and “an action I deeply regret”, but added it had “no bearing whatsoever on the personal choice by Princess Diana to take part in the interview”.
He added: “Evidence handed to the inquiry in her own handwriting (and published alongside the report today) unequivocally confirms this, and other compelling evidence presented to Lord Dyson reinforces it.
“In fact, despite his other findings, Lord Dyson himself in any event accepts that the princess would probably have agreed to be interviewed without what he describes as my ‘intervention’.”
He said he will “always remain immensely proud of that interview”.
Diana’s Panorama interview in 1995 sent shockwaves through the monarchy with details about the state of her marriage to the Prince of Wales.