Priti Patel has refused to rule out criminal prosecutions after the Lord Dyson report into Martin Bashir’s bombshell interview with Princess Diana was published.
The inquiry found the former BBC reporter used “deceitful” tactics to secure the exclusive 1995 Panorama special and an internal investigation by the broadcaster had covered it up.
Lord Dyson said Bashir was in “serious breach” of BBC rules when he commissioned fake bank statements and showed them to Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, to gain the trust of the princess.
The internal inquiry in 1996, led by former director-general Lord Tony Hall, who was director of BBC news and current affairs at the time, exonerated Bashir, even though he had previously admitted lying about the fake documents he used in obtaining the interview.
Scotland Yard has said it will assess the content of the report to determine whether it contains any “significant new evidence”.
BBC’s reputation has been ‘compromised’
Asked on Sky News’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday about the prospect of prosecutions, the Home Secretary said: “If there is subsequent action that needs to be taken, then clearly – alongside the publication of this report and lessons being learned and changes, changes to the institution, structure, governance, accountability – then that will follow.”
She said the BBC’s reputation has been “compromised” by the disclosures and suggested governance and accountability could be “strengthened”.
She told the programme that the forthcoming mid-term review of the BBC charter would be a “very, very significant moment” for the corporation.
“There will be an opportunity not only for reflection but an opportunity to look at governance reforms and how effectively accountability and governance can be strengthened.
“There will be a very, very significant moment now – there is no question about this – where lessons have to be learned.”
She added it was important the corporation rebuilt trust and confidence, saying: “The BBC itself – one of our great institutions – its reputation has been compromised.
“They themselves will have to reflect upon the report and spend a great deal of time really looking at how they can regain and rebuild trust and confidence.
“They will have a great deal of work to do in this particular area. Right now is a very, very important time for the BBC to very much look at itself and learn very important lessons from the publication of this report.”
Bashir said he was ‘deeply sorry’ to Diana’s sons
Bashir has defended the landmark interview, saying he “never wanted to harm” Diana with the programme and does not believe he did.
Speaking to the Sunday Times, he claimed that Diana was not unhappy about what was said in the interview and maintained the pair continued to be friends after it aired.
He said the princess had even visited his wife Debroah in a London hospital on the day she gave birth to the couple’s third child.
While Bashir said he was “deeply sorry” to Prince William and Prince Harry, he rejected the Duke of Cambridge’s claim that he fuelled Diana’s paranoia.
He told the newspaper: “I never wanted to harm Diana in any way and I don’t believe we did.
“Everything we did in terms of the interview was as she wanted, from when she wanted to alert the palace, to when it was broadcast, to its contents… My family and I loved her.”
He added: “Even in the early 1990s, there were stories and secretly recorded phone calls. I wasn’t the source of any of that.”
Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, has said he “draws a line” between the interview and his sister’s death, claiming Bashir’s actions led her to give up her royal security detail.
‘I don’t feel I can be held responsible’
Bashir, who left the BBC last week due to ill health, said: “I don’t feel I can be held responsible for many of the other things that were going on in her life, and the complex issues surrounding those decisions.
“I can understand the motivation [of Earl Spencer’s comments] but to channel the tragedy, the difficult relationship between the royal family and the media purely on to my shoulders feels a little unreasonable… The suggestion I am singularly responsible I think is unreasonable and unfair.”
Bashir commissioned documents purporting to show payments into the bank accounts of members of the royal household and showed them to Earl Spencer, according to Lord Dyson.
He said: “Obviously I regret it, it was wrong. But it had no bearing on anything. It had no bearing on [Diana], it had no bearing on the interview.”
Current director-general Tim Davie wrote to BBC staff on Friday saying: “I know that we now have significantly stronger processes and governance in place to ensure that an event like this doesn’t happen again. However we must also learn lessons and keep improving.”