Sunday, 13 Jun 2021

Palace insiders say they are ‘entitled to know’ how BBC secured Princess Diana interview

Palace insiders who worked for the royals at the time of Princess Diana’s appearance on Panorama have said we are “entitled to know want went on” and how exactly the BBC secured the interview

It comes after Princess Diana’s brother Earl Spencer called for a new inquiry into whether fake documents were used by programme makers in 1995 to trick his sister into doing the interview, because of fears she was spied on.

This week Earl Spencer has released further documents that he says were forged and used to encourage him, and in turn his sister, to talk to the reporter Martin Bashir.

Sources close to Prince Harry say he is being kept updated on what is happening with regards to these new developments, while Kensington Palace had no comment on the Duke of Cambridge’s thoughts on the issue.

Charles Spencer has said the corporation’s investigation in 1996 into whether fake bank statements were used to help land the historic Panorama interview was a “whitewash”.

Dickie Arbiter, who was the Queen’s press secretary at the time, said there was no transparency from the BBC when the initial concerns were raised about fake documents being created by the Panorama team.

He said: “We were unaware of what was going on within the BBC, it was kept behind closed doors. It was a display of the arrogance that permeated through the organisation. It was kept very much under wraps, very much in-house.”

Adding to the calls for a new investigation, he said: “The BBC is a public service broadcaster, we pay for it and we’re entitled to know what the hell is going on.”

The BBC had previously said that a letter written by Princess Diana to the organisation said the documents had not played any part in her decision to do the interview.

That document has been lost.

But Mr Arbiter said writing that kind of official letter wasn’t her style, adding: “I don’t believe there was any letter because quite frankly it would have been kept under lock and key for historical purposes.

“It wasn’t the kind of thing she would have done, she didn’t write official letters.”

The Panorama interview was watched by 23 million people around the world and contained the famous quote “there are three of us in this marriage” – a reference to Prince Charles’ relationship with the then Camilla Parker Bowles, now Duchess of Cornwall.

Mr Arbiter said he had a very frank conversation with the princess after the interview, but she failed to explain why she had decided to do it.

He said: “I told her she was a stupid woman for doing it. She was in her car when we spoke, I told her it was a silly thing to do. And she replied ‘you’re probably right’.

“She didn’t offer any explanation about why she had decided to do it.”

Asked about the sense of surprise that Diana had chosen to do the interview with Martin Bashir, Mr Arbiter said: “At the time we said ‘Martin who?’

“Others who worked within the palace have said they feel it is ‘the right thing’ for the BBC to investigate how the interview was secured, and said that one of the big questions at the time was why Princess Diana had done the interview with a relatively unknown reporter, when she could have chosen from dozens of high profile journalists.

“Those who were there during the 1990s also now wonder what wider impact the documents would have had on Diana’s suspicions and sense of paranoia when it came to her relationships with people and other events that went on within the palace.”

Earl Spencer alleges Mr Bashir used fake documents in order to persuade Princess Diana that two of her senior courtiers were selling information about her to newspapers – and therefore her best course of redress was to speak out in an interview with him.

Yesterday in a series of tweets, Earl Spencer again criticised the BBC and Lord Hall who oversaw the investigation in 1996, saying: “The BBC has shown itself incapable of honestly facing up to the ugly truth of this matter. When the @BBC say they’ve ‘apologised’ to me, what they’ve apologised for is showing me false bank statements relating to a lesser, unrelated, matter. They haven’t apologised for the fake bank statements and other deceit that led to me introducing @MartinBashir to my sister.”

On Tuesday, the BBC said in a statement: “The BBC has apologised. We are happy to repeat that apology. And while this was a quarter of a century ago, we absolutely will investigate – robustly and fairly – substantive new information.

“We have asked Earl Spencer to share further information with the BBC. Unfortunately, we are hampered at the moment by the simple fact that we are unable to discuss any of this with Martin Bashir, as he is seriously unwell. When he is well, we will of course hold an investigation into these new issues.”

A source close to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex said that Prince Harry was “obviously aware” of the latest developments and was being kept “updated on what is happening”.

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