Former BBC director-general Lord Tony Hall has told MPs that he “trusted” Martin Bashir and “gave him a second chance” – but that trust was “abused and misplaced”.
Lord Tony Hall is giving evidence to the DCMS (digital, culture, media and sport committee) about events leading up to Bashir‘s now infamous Panorama interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1995, as well as the broadcaster’s handling of investigations into how he obtained the world exclusive scoop.
It comes following the publication of the Dyson report in May, which criticised methods used to secure the bombshell interview – which saw Diana discussing her break-up with Prince Charles and life inside the Royal Family – including using faked bank statements. The Dyson report also criticised the BBC’s internal investigation into the issue, carried out in 1996, as “woefully ineffective”.
Bashir returned to the BBC as religion correspondent in 2016, some two decades after the Panorama episode that made him a household name in journalism and 17 years after he originally left for ITV – despite allegations about his conduct emerging not long after the Diana interview. He was promoted to religion editor in 2018, but quit citing health issues ahead of the Dyson report being published.
Asked during the DCMS committee hearing why he had reported to the board of governors following a 1996 internal inquiry into Bashir that the journalist was an “honest and honourable man”, Lord Hall said: “In the end we came to a judgment about his lack of experience, that he was out of his depth, that he was contrite, and we gave him a second chance.
“We trusted him and it turns out we couldn’t.”
Lord Hall said Bashir was “in tears” as he was quizzed for an hour-and-a-half during the internal investigation.
“He appeared to us that he was contrite, inexperienced and out of his depth and that is why in the end rather than sacking him, and I can see the reasons for that, he was given a second chance.”
Committee chairman Julian Knight said it was “utterly extraordinary” that the BBC would re-employ Bashir – “a known liar” – as religious affairs correspondent in 2016.
Lord Hall said he was not going to second guess the people who were filling the role, and added: “If we knew then what we know now, of course he wouldn’t have been re-hired.”
Asked what Bashir did for his salary, estimated to be between £80,000 and £120,000, Lord Hall said those questions were better directed at the people who were in charge of him.
Bashir appeared on air and on the BBC website about half a dozen times over three years, Mr Knight told Lord Hall, adding: “That’s about £45,000 a time, nice work if you can get it.”
Lord Hall replied: “That is not effective use of a correspondent, not a good record.”
Asked if he agreed with Lord Dyson’s conclusion that the 1996 internal investigation into Bashir was “woefully ineffective”, Lord Hall said: “We didn’t get to the bottom of the lies that Bashir had told us, we weren’t trying to conceal anything, I do want to stress that, but we were lied to and our trust was misplaced and bluntly, Bashir took us all in, from the director-general to the programme editor.”