The Duke of Cambridge has condemned the BBC for its failings over a Panorama interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, which he said had fuelled the “fear, paranoia and isolation” his mother suffered in the final years of her life.
Prince William said he felt “indescribable sadness” after an independent inquiry found that the corporation covered up “deceitful behaviour” by its journalist Martin Bashir to obtain the interview, while the Duke of Sussex said it was a “culture of exploitation and unethical practices” in the media which “ultimately took her life”.
Their comments came after Lord Dyson’s investigation concluded that Mr Bashir committed a “serious breach” of BBC rules by using fake bank statements to help gain the trust of Princess Diana’s brother Earl Spencer and set up the explosive 1995 Panorama programme in which she complained there were “three of us” in her marriage to Prince of Wales.
In a furious rebuke issued in a video statement on Thursday night, William said: “The interview was a major contribution to making my parents’ relationship worse and has since hurt countless others.
“It brings indescribable sadness to know that the BBC’s failures contributed significantly to her fear, paranoia and isolation that I remember from those final years with her.
“But what saddens me most, is that if the BBC had properly investigated the complaints and concerns first raised in 1995, my mother would have known that she had been deceived.
“She was failed not just by a rogue reporter, but by leaders at the BBC who looked the other way rather than asking the tough questions.”
Calling for the documentary never to be aired again, William said: “In an era of fake news, public service broadcasting and a free press have never been more important. These failings, identified by investigative journalists, not only let my mother down, and my family down; they let the public down too.”
In a separate statement, Harry praised his mother as “resilient, brave, and unquestionably honest” and said Lord Dyson’s inquiry was the first step towards justice and truth.
“The ripple effect of a culture of exploitation and unethical practices ultimately took her life. To those who have taken some form of accountability, thank you for owning it,” he added.
“Yet what deeply concerns me is that practices like these, and even worse, are still widespread today.
“Then, and now, it’s bigger than one outlet, one network, or one publication. Our mother lost her life because of this, and nothing has changed.”
Lord Dyson was appointed last year by the BBC to look into the circumstances surrounding the Panorama interview, over the controversy of fake bank documents purporting to show payments in the accounts of a former employee and two ex-members of the royal household.
The inquiry found Mr Bashir commissioned the production of the documents in a “deceit” to gain Earl Spencer’s trust to persuade him to introduce him to his sister and land the exclusive interview.
The journalist – who left his position as the BBC’s religious affairs correspondent last week after suffering ill-health due to Covid – said he apologised “over the fact that I asked for bank statements to be mocked up. It was a stupid thing to do and was an action I deeply regret”.
But he insisted the statements had no bearing on Diana’s decision to take part in the programme, of which he remained “immensely proud”.
A letter submitted as evidence in the Lord Dyson report, written on official Kensington Palace stationery and signed by Diana, said: “Martin Bashir did not show me any documents, nor give me any information that I was not previously aware of.
“I consented to the interview on Panorama without any undue pressure and have no regrets concerning the matter.”
Lord Dyson’s report found that Diana “would probably have agreed to be interviewed by any experienced and reputable reporter in whom she had confidence even without the intervention of Mr Bashir”.
But William said he believed “the deceitful way the interview was obtained substantially influenced what my mother said and “had established a false narrative which, for over a quarter of a century, has been commercialised by the BBC and others”.
“It is my firm view that this Panorama programme holds no legitimacy and should never be aired again,” he added, noting that Mr Bashir had “lied and used fake documents to obtain the interview with my mother” and “made lurid and false claims about the Royal Family which played on her fears and fuelled paranoia”.
The BBC has written to members of the Royal Family, including the Queen, Prince Charles, William, Harry and Earl Spencer, to apologise for the circumstances of the interview,
Princess Diana’s former private secretary, Commander Patrick Jephson, said she had been “cast adrift” from the “royal support structure that had guided and safeguarded her for so many years” following the interview with Mr Bashir.
In an interview with a new Panorama programme aired by the BBC on Thursday night, he said this had “inevitably made her vulnerable to people who were unable properly to look after her” before her death in a car crash in Paris in 1997.
BBC director-general Tim Davie said: “While the BBC cannot turn back the clock after a quarter of a century, we can make a full and unconditional apology. The BBC offers that today.”
Chairman Richard Sharp said the broadcaster “unreservedly accepts” the report’s findings, adding: “There were unacceptable failures. We take no comfort from the fact that these are historic.”
Former director-general Lord Hall accepted that the BBC’s 1996 inquiry into how Panorama secured its interview “fell well short of what was required” and he was “wrong to give Martin Bashir the benefit of the doubt”.
The BBC has returned awards it won for the Bashir interview, which earned accolades including a Bafta.
“We do not believe it is acceptable to retain these awards because of how the interview was obtained,” the corporation said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the influential House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Friday warned that the BBC had “ducked the hard choices” over budget cuts which it will be forced to make as it adjusts to a new world of streaming services and content on demand.
The committee’s chair Meg Hillier said that “reorganising the deckchairs” in “this Titanic organisation” was not enough at a time when people were watching less BBC content and 200,000 households a year were cancelling their licence fee and switching to online platforms like Netflix.
The double blow comes as the BBC is involved in difficult negotiations with the government over the licence fee settlement for the five years from 2022.