United Kingdom

DOROTHY BYRNE: Failures reveal BBC's utter contempt for a grieving mum and police

The BBC must launch an immediate investigation into The Mail on Sunday's revelations about the conduct of Martin Bashir and what looks like another shameful episode for the corporation.

The mother of a murdered child has been grievously wronged and yet again the reputation of BBC journalism is undermined.

I've been a television journalist for nearly 40 years and I find the events exposed by this paper – and the BBC's failure to investigate them properly – extraordinary.

To take potentially vital forensic evidence from a distressed mother, evidence the police later wanted as part of a murder investigation, and somehow 'lose' it should have prompted a major inquiry when BBC management was first alerted back in 2004.

Former head of Channel 4 News and Current Affairs Dorothy Byrne is pictured

It is hard to imagine how devastated the families of Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway felt when Russell Bishop was acquitted of their murders. Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway are pictured

Its apparent failure to do so exposes utter contempt for a grieving mother and the police. These failings must be examined by an independent inquiry and the findings made public.

The BBC and ITV must also re-examine all stories Bashir worked on. It's becoming clear that the unethical methods he used to get his infamous Princess Diana interview were not a one-off example of his appalling behaviour.

That's something television journalists, including many of his BBC colleagues, have said for years. They are furious that their reputation for high standards is being dragged through the mud.

AND there is another important question here. Why does the despicable trickery used by Bashir to fool Diana and her brother Earl Spencer merit a major inquiry led by a retired senior judge, yet the wrong done to the families of two little girls from ordinary backgrounds does not?

It is hard to imagine how devastated the families of Nicola Fellows and Karen Hadaway felt when Russell Bishop was acquitted of their murders. 

So when the BBC, in the form of Bashir, promised to reinvestigate, a glimmer of hope must have risen in their hearts. Documents obtained by this paper show the Public Eye programme made a genuine attempt to find new evidence. This would have been laudable if conducted carefully and sensitively.

The BBC and ITV must also re-examine all stories Bashir worked on. It's becoming clear that the unethical methods he used to get his infamous Princess Diana interview were not a one-off example of his appalling behaviour

More hope came when the double jeopardy law preventing those acquitted of a crime from being retried was overturned and police reinvestigated. 

It was then that Michelle, Karen's mother, and Sussex Police realised the clothing – which one of the detectives said could have helped build a case against Bishop – was missing. To add insult to injury, Bashir denied ever taking them.

This paper has now discovered that despite the gravity of the situation, the BBC conducted what appears to be the most perfunctory investigation into the whereabouts of the clothes. 

They did not speak to Bashir directly and freelance reporter Eileen Fairweather, who saw the hand-over of the clothes, says she was not interviewed or told there was an investigation.

Editor Nigel Chapman, who told Bashir to obtain scene-of-crime evidence, has told the MoS he was not contacted, which the BBC denies. Charlie Beckett, who worked on Public Eye, and deputy editor Harry Dean say the same. 

Either way, the BBC can't say it doesn't know how to investigate properly. It is one of the world's most respected investigative news organisations. An inquiry must find out why the original probe was so poorly conducted.

When Lord Dyson's excoriating report on the BBC's handling of the Princess Diana interview was published, I was among those who publicly called on the BBC to reopen its inquiries into this scandal, too. 

It did not respond. I also suggested Bashir's other stories should be examined.

Bashir's interview with Diana landed him a plum job at ITV. But his conduct there began to be the source of complaints. It was claimed that he lied to Michael Jackson to obtain an interview.

The then head of BBC Current Affairs wrote a letter to ITV claiming Bashir had lied in investigations into serial killer Harold Shipman and Soho Nail Bomber David Copeland. In each case, said the BBC, he had traduced BBC journalists' reputations to persuade people to give him their stories. 

Bashir has denied this, just as he denies almost every damaging claim about him.

When I was Head of News and Current Affairs at Channel Four, I would have seen it as my absolute duty to thoroughly investigate accusations such as those levelled at Bashir.

UK television journalism is admired worldwide for its ethical standards. BBC journalists have sat with me at events aimed at helping journalists in other countries to emulate them. The BBC can't lecture others if it doesn't enforce those standards itself. 

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