A review into the decision to rehire Martin Bashir at BBC following his interview with Princess Diana found “no evidence” that the journalist was given the job to “cover up” the events surrounding the 1995 programme.
Mr Bashir was hired as religious affairs correspondent at the BBC in 2016 – despite serious questions having been raised over his now-notorious Panorama interview.
Ken MacQuarrie, who conducted the review into the re-hiring, said: “In my view, the recruitment process for the religious affairs correspondent was targeted at finding the right person for the role.”
He added: “I have found no evidence that Martin Bashir was re-hired to contain and/or cover up the events surrounding the 1995 Panorama programme. In my view, that theory is entirely unfounded.”
The internal review to establish the facts around Mr Bashir’s return to the BBC follows last month’s publication of Lord Dyson’s damning report into the circumstances surrounding the Panorama programme.
Lord Dyson’s independent investigation found a “serious breach” of editorial rules, condemning the methods Mr Bashir used to secure his bombshell Diana interview – including the use of fake bank statements.
The Dyson report also found the breach of editorial rules was later covered up by the BBC, and criticised a “woefully ineffective” 1996 internal investigation into the way the interview was secured.
“None of the individuals involved in the recruitment of Martin Bashir had knowledge of all of the matters contained in the Dyson report,” said Mr MacQuarrie.
“I have no doubt that if any of the individuals involved in the appointment of Martin Bashir in 2016 had been aware of what is now publicly known as a result of the Dyson report, Martin Bashir would have never been reappointed to the BBC.”
Mr MacQuarrie conceded there were “some shortcomings” in the process by which Mr Bashir was re-employed, but said he was satisfied he was ultimately appointed because “his knowledge and experience were considered to be the best match”.
The report found that Lord Tony Hall, the former director-general of the BBC who led the 1996 investigation into the circumstances around the Panorama interview, did not play a part in the decision to rehire Mr Bashir.
“Some individuals appear to have been of the view that the director-general had sanctioned the appointment,” Mr MacQuarrie’s review found. “I have seen no evidence to support the idea that there was sign-off of Martin Bashir by Tony Hall prior to the appointment.”
The corporation’s then-head of news-gathering Jonathan Munro did recall the Panorama controversy and made efforts to find out more during the 2016 interview process, according to the BBC.
He was told that Mr Bashir had faked some documents – but was also told Princess Diana had provided a handwritten letter saying she did not feel she had been misled.
James Harding, then-director of news at the BBC when Mr Bashir was rehired, was made aware of the events surrounding the Panorama interview by Mr Munro. But he did not make any further inquiries of his own.
Thanking Mr MacQuarrie for his review, the BBC’s new director-general Tim Davie said: “It finds the recruitment process was targeted to find the right person for the role and it was conducted in good faith.”
He added: “While the report finds processes were largely followed at the time, it is clear we need to reflect on the findings to ensure consistent best practice is applied in our recruitment.
“Finally, it is without doubt that had the organisation been aware of what is now publicly known because of the Dyson report Martin Bashir would have never been reappointed.”
Tory MP Julian Knight, chair of the Commons Culture Committee, said the committee was “deeply concerned” by some of the findings in the latest review.
“That the BBC considered rehiring Martin Bashir when there were high level doubts over his integrity stretches incredulity to breaking point,” he said.
“By this point, as the Dyson report concluded, senior members of the BBC knew that Bashir had lied about the use of faked bank statements to gain access to Princess Diana.”
Mr Bashir announced shortly before the publication of the Dyson report that he was resigning due to health reasons. The BBC confirmed last month that he is working out his three-month notice period.