The BBC has been ordered to release thousands of emails relating to the controversial Panorama interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, as her brother accused senior figures at the Corporation of “cooking up” a cover-up.
The broadcaster has spent more than £100,000 in legal fees in a bid to keep information about its handling of the Martin Bashir scandal under wraps.
But in a damning ruling a judge has now ordered BBC bosses to immediately disclose around 3,200 messages.
Among the emails are dozens sent between Mr Bashir and senior BBC figures three years ago when the controversy over the 1995 world exclusive came under fresh scrutiny.
An independent inquiry by Lord Dyson, published in June 2021, concluded that Mr Bashir had used deception to secure the interview and then lied to BBC managers.
But Earl Spencer, the late Princess’s brother, believes the lack of transparency continued as recently as 2020 when he claims senior figures at the corporation sought to hide details about who knew what and when.
Speaking on Broadcasting House on BBC Radio 4, Earl Spencer said: “I suspect there was a cover-up about a cover-up.”
He said he believed some figures at the BBC had ensured access to Mr Bashir was restricted during the investigation into the scandal.
Earl Spencer said: “I was told when I approached the BBC management at that time that there was no way we could talk to Martin Bashir, he was too ill to talk and he was written-off by doctors as such…but we know there are 38 emails between Bashir and senior people at the BBC at this time.
“My suspicion is that they were cooking up a story to try and make him unavailable during a time of particular interest in Diana’s interview which was the 25th anniversary and I believe that the people responsible for this cover-up were thinking, ‘if we can string this out long enough, keep Bashir off games effectively for a few weeks, this thing will blow away’.”
Earl Spencer also hit out at the corporation’s use of licence fee money to mount a legal battle to keep certain information out of the public domain.
He said: “People at the BBC who are responsible for this have hidden behind expensive lawyers at a time when the BBC, this great national and international institution is making cuts and I think that is obscene.”
Integrity of the BBC
He added: “The problem here is one of the integrity of people at the BBC.”
Bashir’s world exclusive interview with Princess Diana was watched by 23 million people, sent shockwaves around the world and also served as a huge springboard for his career.
But it later emerged he had shown Earl Spencer forged bank statements in order to win his confidence and persuade him to help broker the interview with his sister.
Investigative journalist Andy Webb has been battling to obtain further documents and emails from the BBC, which he believes could further expose the extent of the alleged cover-up at the corporation.
BBC bosses had refused to release the information insisting it was either “irrelevant” or “legally privileged”.
But Judge Brian Kennedy KC, overseeing an information tribunal, ordered the BBC to release the emails – saying the corporation had been “inconsistent, erroneous and unreliable” in the way it dealt with the initial request.
A BBC spokesman accepted that mistakes had been made but said it was considering the tribunal’s decision.