Friday, May 20, 2022

Former BBC boss Lord Hall said he “failed to get to bottom of Martin Bashir’s lies”.

Former Director-General Lord Hall said the BBC failed to get to the bottom of the “lies” told by Martin Bashir after accepting that he presided over a “woefully ineffective” investigation into the deceptions used by the reporter to land his Princess Diana scoop.

Lord Hall was grilled by MPs about why he had called Mr Bashir an “honest and honourable man” following the BBC’s 1996 inquiry into the journalist’s methods.

Last month, Lord Dyson found a “serious breach” of editorial rules at the BBC, condemning Mr Bashir for using fake bank statements to win the trust of Earl Spencer and then the princess.

Lord Hall, head of news at the time, defended his decision to give Bashir a “second chance”, despite being aware that the reporter had faked the documents and lied to senior executives.

“I trusted a journalist, I gave him a second chance and that trust was abused and was misplaced,” Lord Hall explained to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

Admitting his regrets, Lord Hall said: “I don’t think the words ‘honest and honourable’ 25 years on, look appropriate at all. We were lied to by Martin Bashir.”

Asked why Bashir wasn’t fired when the faked documents first came to light, Lord Hall said the star was quizzed during an internal investigation into the affair for an hour-and-a-half and he was “in tears”.

He said: “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. It was me trying to work out, ‘Could I trust this man or not?’”

“We didn’t get to the bottom of the lies that Bashir had told us, we weren’t trying to conceal anything. Bashir took us all in, from the Director-General to the programme editor.”

During a stormy session, committee chairman Julian Knight said it was “utterly extraordinary” that the BBC would then rehire Bashir to cover religion in 2016 and and asked how it came to be that a “known liar” was brought back to the corporation.

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.”

Despite his knowledge of Mr Bashir’s past deceptions, the only question the Director-General asked executives about the potential appointment was “I hope he fulfils the (religion) brief.”

Asked by John Nicolson, SNP MP and former BBC News presenter, said BBC journalists were stunned by Bashir’s return. He called on Lord Hall to hand back his gold-plated BBC pension after presiding over a botched investigation, which failed to ask Earl Spencer exactly what documents Bashir had shown him.

A furious Hall said he had acted with “integrity” during 35 years in public service and had done a “hell of a lot for the BBC and the arts”, including returning to “rescue” the corporation in 2013 when he returned as Director-General during the Savile crisis.

Lord Birt, Director-General when the Panorama interview aired in 1996, said he now knew that Bashir was an “industrial-scale liar” and a “confidence trickster” who beguiled Lord Hall by crying when his techniques were investigated.

Lord Birt was asked by Conservative MP Steve Brine whether he believed the interview helped worsen Diana’s mental state.

He said: “It is a tragic occurrence. It is an absolute horror story and it should never have happened – and it is a complete embarrassment that it did happen. None of us can speculate.

“My heart goes out to the sons of Princess Diana but none of us can truly speculate and understand what the consequences were. What we can understand is that this was a plane crash.”


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