The BBC has discovered a previously lost letter from Princess Diana in which she allegedly says she was not coerced into her 1995 Panorama interview with Martin Bashir.
The broadcaster has previously accepted that Bashir used fake bank statements to claim palace staff were being paid for information on the Princess of Wales.
Bashir, then a 32-year-old fledgling reporter before his career defining interview, convinced a BBC graphic designer to mock up the bank statements before showing them to Diana’s brother Charles Spencer.
Earl Spencer this month went public to claim Bashir repeatedly deceived him in order to gain access to the royal as her marriage to Prince Charles collapsed.
He produced handwritten notes of a meeting with the journalist and his sister in which he claims Bashir made 32 jaw dropping and libellous claims about the royal family.
The discovery of the letter in which Diana wrote to the BBC to “confirm that these documents played no part in her decision”, according to an internal statement, could absolve the corporation and Bashir of any blame.
Diana’s biographer said last week: : “If they (the BBC) received a letter saying the Princess of Wales was happy with the way the programme was made, that would bombproof them against any future concerns.
“I find it astonishing that this letter, according to them, does not exist.”
An internal investigation by the BBC in 1996, carried out by former director of BBC News and Current Affairs Tony Hall, who went on to become director general of the corporation clearing Bashir of wrongdoing.
Instead the probe reports to the BBC board that the graphic designer who followed Bashir’s orders “will not work for the BBC again”.
The BBC said at the time that Diana had written a note saying she did not see the false bank statements and that they played no part in her decision to give the interview.
The corporation had until today said it no longer had a copy of the letter.
A spokesperson for the BBC said: “Following the announcement of the independent investigation, the BBC has now recovered the Princess’s original handwritten note which is referred to in our records from the time.
“We will pass it on to the independent investigation.
“As there has been a lot of commentary about this note and journalists have asked about it, we thought it appropriate to put on record that we’ve now recovered it.
“We will set out further details of the independent investigation shortly.”
Tim Davie, the corporation’s director general, last week confirmed a fresh and independent investigation would be launched, adding: “The BBC is taking this very seriously and we want to get to the truth.
“We are in the process of commissioning a robust and independent investigation.”
The BBC has maintained it has been unable to speak to Bashir as he was recovering from a quadruple bypass as well as suffering from the effects of coronavirus.
However, the journalist who is the current Religious Affairs correspondent for the corporation was photographed near his London home last weekend picking up a takeaway curry.
Sources have confirmed the new probe will want to interview him on allegations he preyed on the princess’s fears that she was being spied on by MI5 to secure the meeting as well as making up a series of outlandish claims about the Queen, Prince Charles and other members of the royal family.
The broadcaster has previously maintained the fake bank statements were shown to Spencer after he had already agreed to introduce him to his sister, to which Spencer insists is a “lie”.
Before Mr Davie issued a partial apology earlier this month relating to Bashir’s conduct surrounding the statements, Earl Spencer said it was “palpably untrue” for the BBC to say the forgeries were irrelevant.
In the email on October 23 he said: “If it were not for me seeing these statements, I would not have introduced Bashir to my sister.
“In turn, he would have remained just one of thousands of journalists hoping that he/she had a tiny chance of getting her to speak to them, with no realistic prospect of doing so.”
Source: All Football