United Kingdom

Former BBC chairman 'expressed grave doubts about Martin Bashir's honesty' 25 YEARS ago

Former BBC chairman Marmaduke Hussey expressed serious misgivings about Martin Bashir's honesty during his exit interview 25 years ago. 

Lord Hussey, who died in 2006, gave three exit interviews to the BBC's oral history archive at the end of his eight years steering the corporation, on the understanding they would not be shared until after his death. 

His testimony shatters claims made by Lord Birt to MPs that nobody in charge at the BBC had doubted ex-religion editor Mr Bashir's integrity at the time of his explosive 1995 Panorama interview with Princess Diana.

Lord Birt, who was director-general at the time, had denounced Mr Bashir as a 'very skilled confidence trickster' and a 'crook', but said: 'We would wish in a better world that somebody or other had smelt a rat, but they did not'. 

Giving his exit interviews on January 23, April 11 and August 21, 1996, Lord Hussey remarked: 'There are many questions [which] arise still from that programme - and what incidentally has happened to Mr Bashir? 

'He's never been heard of since. All we know is, an inquiry has been conducted into certain forged documents which he produced. 

'We were not told the result of that inquiry. I should think if he had been proved innocent, we would have been told.'  

Former BBC chairman Marmaduke Hussey expressed serious misgivings about Martin Bashir's honesty during his exit interview from the corporation 25 years ago. Pictured: Princess Diana with Marmaduke Hussey, later Lord Hussey, who died in 2006

Marmaduke Hussey was horrified by the broadcaster's secret Panorama interview with the Princess of Wales, recorded without the knowledge of Buckingham Palace

Lord Hussey, who died in 2006, gave three exit interviews to the BBC's oral history archive at the end of his eight years steering the broadcaster, on the understanding they would not be shared until after his death

When asked about Mr Bashir's 'integrity', Lord Hussey replied: 'Well, I think it's a bizarre situation, when the interviewer clearly does not ask the questions which should have been asked.'

It previously emerged that Lord Hussey was horrified by the BBC's secret Panorama interview with Diana, recorded without the knowledge of Buckingham Palace. 

He had asked BBC governors to condemn the interview and the conduct of then director-general Lord Birt and attempted to force his resignation.

Executives did not tell Lord Hussey about the interview until the last minute because they feared he might stop the broadcast. The Tory peer resigned two months later and wrote in his memoir that the episode had 'darkened my last months at the BBC'.

He was known to be a Prince Charles 'loyalist' and had close links to the Royal Family as his wife Lady Susan is a lady-in-waiting to the Queen.  

The Sunday Times reports that Lord Hussey singled out Mr Bashir's failure to press Diana on her role in the bitter briefing war with Prince Charles.  

He was also unhappy about the whiff of behind-the-scenes deals struck with Diana, remarking: 'There is a suggestion that these were unrehearsed questions given impromptu: I don't think many people believe that now.  And the names of the people who were alleged to have coached her... are fairly widely circulating.'

Lord Hussey also appeared to have a better grasp of the likely reverberations of the programme than management, adding: 'The director-general said... that we hadn't to worry because the questions were anodyne and the interview was of no constitutional significance. 

'And he'd seen it himself, so he'd give us that assurance. That seemed, in retrospect, to have been a slightly conservative view.'

The makers of the ITV documentary, The Diana Interview: Revenge of a Princess, obtained the exit interviews from the oral history archive but could broadcast only one short extract in November. 

Martin Bashir speaks during the ABC portion of the Television Critics Association Press Tour at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on July 26, 2007

Last month, Prince William said the interview 'was a major contribution to making my parents' relationship much worse' and that 'the BBC's failures contributed significantly to [Diana's] fear, paranoia and isolation'

Last month, Prince William said the interview 'was a major contribution to making my parents' relationship much worse' and that 'the BBC's failures contributed significantly to [Diana's] fear, paranoia and isolation'. 

The decision not to tell Lord Hussey was discussed in a BBC documentary filmed to mark the tenth anniversary of Diana's interview with Mr Bashir.

Lord Birt told the 2005 BBC2 Arena documentary: '[Hussey] tried to get the governors to condemn the programme, which they refused to do.

'Having failed at that he tried to get the governors to condemn the way in which I had handled the programme and particularly the fact that I hadn't alerted him as chairman. He failed to get what he wanted: a stinging rebuke which, he calculated, would force my resignation.'

The documentary, The Princess and Panorama, was shown to former High Court judge Lord Dyson as part of his investigation into the 1995 interview.

He found that Mr Bashir had deceived Diana and her brother Earl Spencer to get the interview and that a subsequent BBC investigation had covered up the scandal.

Lord Birt (pictured) told a documentary: 'The chairman set out to unseat me'

Such was the level of secrecy about the Panorama interview that Mr Bashir entered Kensington Palace disguised as a salesman.

Diana told Buckingham Palace about it only after the interview was recorded as she reportedly feared that the broadcast might be halted if the palace had known about it earlier.

Tim Gardam, who was the BBC's head of weekly news and current affairs at the time, said executives had all believed that Lord Hussey, known as 'Duke', would have alerted Buckingham Palace if he had known of the planned broadcast.

Lord Birt told the documentary: 'Marmaduke Hussey was a Prince Charles loyalist, he was increasingly concerned about Princess Diana. On a number of occasions he tried to poison her reputation with me.'

In the 2005 Arena programme, BBC executives heaped praise on Bashir, even though it had already emerged that he had used faked bank statements to woo Earl Spencer into introducing him to Diana.

Lord Hall was head of news at the time and oversaw a flawed internal investigation into Bashir's tactics which concluded he was an 'honourable man' who had made a lapse with the forged bank documents. 

He has since admitted his 1996 investigation 'fell short of what was required' and resigned as chairman of the National Gallery. 

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