Prince William pressure led to appointment of senior judge to head Martin Bashir inquiry

The Duke of Cambridge put pressure on the BBC for a fortnight until it resolved to appoint a senior judge to head the independent inquiry into Panorama’s controversial interview with his mother.

On Thursday night, sources close to Prince William confirmed that he had been "kept abreast of developments" after a Channel 4 documentary last month raised questions about the methods used by Martin Bashir to secure the sensational interview with Diana, Princess of Wales.

The Duke has welcomed the appointment of Lord Dyson, a former Master of the Rolls, to lead the investigation into whether Diana was tricked into the televised confessional, in which she famously referred to Camilla Parker-Bowles being the "third person" in her "crowded" marriage to Prince Charles.

The appointment leaves Mr Bashir, 57, the BBC’s religious affairs editor, with the thorny question of whether he should co-operate. A leading criminal lawyer has warned that he risks incriminating himself over forged bank statements allegedly used to persuade Princess Diana to give him the interview.

Martin Bashir

Credit: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images North America

Scotland Yard sources said that, if Lord Dyson’s inquiry was to identify evidence of criminal wrongdoing, the Metropolitan Police would take the matter seriously.

Mr Bashir is off sick after suffering from Covid-19 and then undergoing a quadruple heart bypass, but the BBC has decided not to suspend him in light of the inquiry, because it costs the corporation less to keep him on sick pay, The Telegraph understands.

Mr Bashir is understood to be on half pay under BBC sickness policy after 18 weeks off work. After a further nine weeks, he will be entitled to the Government’s statutory sick pay of £95.85 a week. 

In his first intervention since the row over the Panorama interview plunged the BBC into crisis, Prince William issued a statement on Wednesday night which commended the investigation as "a step in the right direction… [and] help establish the truth behind the actions that led to the Panorama interview".

Kensington Palace said the duke had "tentatively welcomed" the inquiry, announced last week by Tim Davie, the BBC’s new director-general. He is understood to have made the rare intervention having pressed for an independent judge-led inquiry. It is thought he has been in regular contact with Mr Davie, although had no role in the appointment of Lord Dyson.

Tim Davie, the BBC director general, and Prince William have been in regular contact, although the Duke had no role in the appointment of Lord Dyson

In Lord Dyson’s memoir, published last year, the judge praised Prince William on a visit to his Inns of Court for his "effortlessly royal way" of putting law students at their ease.

According to one palace insider, the Duke has "taken confidence" from how seriously Mr Davie appears to be taking the inquiry, after he stated his determination to "get to the truth" of what happened.

He is also said to be happy with the terms of reference for the probe, which will examine the mocked-up bank statements and other alleged lies told to Earl Spencer and Diana; whether Mr Bashir’s behaviour broke the BBC’s editorial guidelines, and whether his alleged underhand tactics were instrumental in persuading Diana to give her only interview to a then largely unknown reporter.

Mr Davie is understood to have realised the BBC had a "new case to answer" as soon as the Channel 4 documentary "The Truth Behind the Interview", aired on October 21, made fresh allegations about Mr Bashir’s conduct.

This was compounded by new paperwork produced by Earl Spencer, and subsequent newspaper coverage suggesting that Diana may have been duped into giving away her deepest secrets on prime time TV.

BBC insiders said Lord Dyson’s inquiry is likely to take six months, but may be longer. It is unclear whether Mr Bashir will co-operate. The Telegraph understands it is unlikely he will ever appear on BBC screens again, so there is little incentive for him to take part, given that it is highly unlikely he can work for the corporation in the future.

The terms of reference for the Lord Dyson inquiry

Franklin Sinclair, a former chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, said Mr Bashir risked incriminating himself if he co-operated with the inquiry.

"If I was advising him I would be telling him not to say anything that would incriminate him," said Mr Sinclair, managing partner of Tuckers, one of the UK’s biggest criminal law firms. "Bashir is going to lose his job anyway, so if there is any chance of a criminal liability, he should be keeping his mouth shut. It is only an inquiry and he cannot be witness-summonsed. He will have to consider how not co-operating affects his career. But he is done anyway."

Scotland Yard has not yet received a complaint regarding Earl Spencer’s allegations. But sources said that if Lord Dyson’s inquiry was to identify evidence of criminal wrongdoing, the Metropolitan Police would take the matter seriously.

On Thursday night, Diana’s friend Rosa Monckton welcomed William’s intervention, telling ITV: "Any son would want to stand up for his mother in such circumstances. It’s good he’s put aside the royal protocols and said: ‘I support this inquiry’. The damage done to our national broadcaster has been much worse."

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