And they made this man the Religion Editor! Martin Bashir is accused of preying on grieving parents, lying and crude sex jokes, write MARK HOOKHAM and ADAM LUCK
- Martin Bashir faces claims he landed interview with Diana through ‘dishonesty’
- Over the years Mr Bashir has been accused of ‘preying on the vulnerable’
- Michael Jackson said he was duped by Mr Bashir in a landmark 2003 interview
Martin Bashir made his name by persuading reclusive stars to bare their souls and in doing so secured some of the most sensational scoops of his generation.
But the once feted journalist now faces an inquiry into claims by Earl Spencer that he landed his historic 1995 interview with Princess Diana through ‘sheer dishonesty’.
Despite a swirl of controversy around the 57-year-old dating back decades, the BBC sought fit to appoint him to the high-profile role of Religion Editor in 2016.
But over the years Mr Bashir has been accused of ‘preying on the vulnerable’, using techniques in a string of stories which could – and arguably should – have set alarm bells ringing at the Corporation.
Martin Bashir (pictured in 2019) made his name by persuading reclusive stars to bare their souls and in doing so secured some of the most sensational scoops of his generation
To secure a bombshell interview with Michael Jackson in 2003, Mr Bashir allegedly promised the singer that he would organise a trip for the pop star and the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to Africa to help children suffering from AIDS, court transcripts claim.
The TV presenter’s sensational documentary Living With Michael Jackson attracted worldwide publicity after Jackson’s admission that he shared his bed with children.
Yet Jackson maintained he had been duped. Two years later, during the pop star’s trial for alleged child abuse and extortion, Mr Bashir faced intense questioning over his conduct.
Citing California’s ‘shield law’ which protects journalists who refuse to answer questions about their sources or newsgathering, Mr Bashir blanked a series of questions from Jackson’s lawyer.
‘You told him [Jackson] that you were going to arrange a meeting with Kofi Annan… and would plan a trip to Africa with Mr Jackson and Kofi Annan to help African children with AIDS?’ asked the lawyer.
To secure a bombshell interview with Michael Jackson in 2003 (pictured), Mr Bashir allegedly promised the singer that he would organise a trip for the pop star and the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to Africa to help children suffering from AIDS, court transcripts claim
Asked by the judge if he wished to answer, Mr Bashir replied: ‘I don’t, your honour.’
Jackson, who died in 2009, was found not guilty on all 14 counts against him. In 2006, Mr Bashir denied that he had given the singer any assurances. ‘He wasn’t promised anything,’ he insisted.
In 1991, Mr Bashir was working with award-winning reporter Eileen Fairweather on a possible documentary into the ‘Babes in the Wood’ double murders for the BBC’s Public Eye programme.
Five years earlier, Karen Hadaway and Nicola Fellows, both nine, had been found murdered in a park near their homes in Brighton.
Ms Fairweather had met Karen’s bereaved mother Michelle and persuaded her to speak to Mr Bashir.
At the end of a three-hour meeting, Mr Bashir made a highly unusual offer – the BBC would pay for Karen’s bloodied clothes to be DNA tested in a fresh bid to catch the killer.
‘Michelle took us out to the garage and the bloodstained clothes were still in a police evidence bag,’ recalled Ms Fairweather.
‘Martin took them away. I was very surprised. He got in the car and that was the last I ever saw of him. I was shoved off the programme. It was never made.’
The clothes, including a sweatshirt, T-shirt, vest and knickers, were never returned. In 2004, Karen’s family produced a receipt from Mr Bashir for the clothes, but he said he could not recall meeting them or taking the items.
‘He raised their hopes,’ Ms Fairweather said last night. ‘Journalism is a rough old trade but you don’t do that to bereaved parents.’
Martin Bashir’s interview in 1999 with the five men suspected in the murder of Stephen Lawrence won a coveted Royal Television Society award, but the programme provoked controversy
Mr Bashir’s interview in 1999 with the five men suspected in the murder of Stephen Lawrence won a coveted Royal Television Society award, but the programme provoked controversy.
The Mail on Sunday revealed that Granada TV paid for Luke Knight, Gary Dobson, David Norris, Jamie Acourt and his brother Neil to be given a two-week holiday in a £900-a-week Victorian farmhouse in Scotland after their interviews were broadcast on the Tonight With Trevor McDonald programme.
At the time, Granada said it made the arrangement on police advice.
A couple of years later, Mr Bashir ‘misled’ the father of a runaway child prodigy to secure an interview, the Broadcasting Standards Commission ruled.
Sufiah Yusof, a maths genius, went to Oxford aged 13 but ran away two years later, claiming her parents had put too much pressure on her.
She was found safe and well after two weeks and Mr Bashir was the first journalist to gain an interview with the family.
Her father Farooq took part in an episode of Tonight shown in 2001, but the BSC found that the team ‘lulled’ him into a false belief about the content of the programme.
Graham Baldwin of Catalyst Counselling, a charity that helped Mr Yusof, said: ‘We were approached by Martin Bashir who said he would help my client find his daughter and expose the authorities for the way they had treated his family.
But Mr Yusof became suspicious and recorded his conversation with Bashir.’ In fact, the film was highly critical of Mr Yusof. The BSC later ruled that he had been treated unfairly.
Four years after the Jackson interview, Mr Bashir was suspended from ABC’s Nightline programme for crude remarks during a speech to Asian-American journalists.
He told the audience that he was ‘happy to be in the midst of so many Asian babes’, adding: ‘In fact, I’m happy that the podium covers me from the waist down’.
Two years later, he joined MSNBC but resigned in 2013 after comments he made about US politician Sarah Palin caused uproar.
Mr Bashir described her as ‘America’s resident dunce’, before suggesting that someone ought to defecate in her mouth.
Despite that, he was rehired by the BBC in 2016. Last night, a Corporation spokesman said: ‘The post was filled after a competitive interview process.’
But Clare Kirby, the solicitor who represented Mr Yusof in his 2003 complaint, said: ‘Martin Bashir is someone who preys on people at their lowest and most vulnerable. The BBC knew this and yet saw fit to employ him in a senior post.
‘What makes me even more angry is that he is the religion editor. It raises serious questions about the judgment of the BBC.’
By MARK HOOKHAM FOR THE MAIL ON SUNDAY
Besieged journalist Martin Bashir arrives home after a visit to an Indian takeaway and a wine shop – despite the BBC insisting he is too ill to answer questions over the ‘web of deceit’ he allegedly spun to clinch his Panorama interview with Princess Diana.
Our exclusive photograph – taken on Friday evening outside his £2 million North London home – comes as a graphic designer at the centre of Mr Bashir’s extraordinary deception today breaks his 25-year silence on the scandal.
Matt Wiessler was ordered by Mr Bashir to produce two counterfeit bank statements, which the reporter used to win over Earl Spencer, Diana’s brother, and help engineer a meeting with the Princess.
BBC documents last week revealed how Lord Hall of Birkenhead, its former director-general who led an inquiry into the affair as head of news, made Mr Wiessler a scapegoat and reassured BBC governors the designer ‘will not work for the BBC again’.
Besieged journalist Martin Bashir arrives at his £2million home in London after a visit to an Indian takeaway and a wine shop – despite the BBC insisting he is too ill to answer questions over the ‘web of deceit’ he allegedly spun to clinch his Panorama interview with Princess Diana
Now in an ITV documentary, Mr Wiessler, 58, gives the most detailed account of a scandal that has cast a shadow over Mr Bashir’s sensational 1995 interview with Diana – arguably the BBC’s biggest ever journalistic scoop.
In bombshell interviews for the two-part series – some of which will be broadcast tomorrow and Tuesday – Mr Wiessler accuses Lord Hall and other BBC bosses of making him the ‘fall guy’ for Mr Bashir’s deception and demands an apology from the Corporation.
He also claims that Mr Bashir, now the BBC’s Religion Editor, pleaded with him not to blow the whistle and describes being ‘freaked out’ when his flat was burgled and back-up disks containing copies of the forged documents were stolen.
Mr Wiessler, a father of three who worked for the BBC for a decade and won a Royal Television Society award for redesigning the Corporation’s election coverage in 1992, says he struggled to rebuild his life after Lord Hall’s decision to blacklist him.
‘In almost a naive way, I thought when you worked for the BBC, you were working for the greater good of everything,’ he says. ‘You were always doing the right thing – for the public as a public broadcaster.
Martin Bashir, a 32-year-old reporter for the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme, Panorama, interviewed Princess Diana in 1995 (pictured)
‘Almost all of that fell away and I thought what it is really about is senior management and senior producers and presenters protecting themselves at all cost. I quite clearly felt that I was the one who was going to be the fall guy in this story.
‘All I want is for the BBC to come forward and honestly make an apology because it’s had a huge impact.’
His comments came as astonishing details emerged yesterday of 32 smears peddled by Mr Bashir to secure his interview with Diana, including lurid claims about senior Royals and courtiers.
Handwritten notes taken by Earl Spencer of his meeting with Mr Bashir and Diana in 1995 – revealed yesterday by the Daily Mail’s Richard Kay – detail how the BBC journalist falsely claimed that the Princess’s private correspondence was being opened, her car tracked and her phone tapped.
The records also state that he falsely claimed that the Queen was ‘a comfort eater’ with ‘heart problems’ and that Prince Edward was having treatment for Aids at the Royal Marsden Hospital.
Martin Bashir (pictured in 2019) is ‘seriously unwell’ with coronavirus-related complications, the BBC has said
Mr Wiessler told ITV that he has finally agreed to speak out ‘because I’m this guy that’s remembered for forging the document and I want to clear my name’.
In October 1995, he was asked by Mr Bashir to urgently mock up two bank statements for him. Reconstructing documents for Panorama was not unusual, but Bashir needed the work completed overnight and did not say what they were for.
‘I got a phone call from Martin Bashir and he wanted me to do a favour for him and it was really urgent and really important,’ says Mr Wiessler.
‘Martin said that they really, really, really had to be done by the morning as he needed them at [Heathrow] Terminal Two.
‘He said: “I need to show them to someone.” It’s almost like he was inventing it as he was going along.’
The fake statements purported to show that Earl Spencer’s head of security Alan Waller was receiving money from a newspaper group and a mysterious offshore company.
That was false and it is now known that Mr Bashir showed Earl Spencer the fakes to help gain his trust.
At the time, Mr Wiessler was in the dark, but he soon started to become suspicious, not least because one of the names used on the documents had appeared in previous Panorama programmes.
His anxiety grew in December that year when his flat in North London was broken into and computer disks containing the forgeries were stolen.
Matt Wiessler was ordered by Mr Bashir to produce two counterfeit bank statements, which the reporter used to win over Earl Spencer, Diana’s brother (pictured together at the Birthright Ball), and help engineer a meeting with the Princess
‘I was absolutely freaked out… I searched through my computer files in the office and I couldn’t find any of the back-ups that I had made of the statements that I had created for Martin,’ he says.
‘I became quite paranoid because I thought there must be more to this statement story than I can ever dream of. I’d never had a break-in before in my life. And I just thought someone was sending me a message or something.’
The theft prompted Mr Wiessler to raise his concerns with BBC chiefs but Lord Hall’s inquiry found that while Mr Bashir’s actions were ‘unwise’, he was ‘an honourable man’. By March 1996, Mr Wiessler was under intense pressure after details of his role had been leaked to the media.
In desperation, he confronted Mr Bashir during a meal at a restaurant in Clapham, South London, warning the journalist that he was considering going public.
BBC documents last week revealed how Lord Hall of Birkenhead, its former director-general who led an inquiry into the affair as head of news, made Matt Wiessler (pictured) a scapegoat and reassured BBC governors the designer ‘will not work for the BBC again’
Describing Mr Bashir’s reaction, he says: ‘All he could think of doing, was saying to me, “Whatever you do, don’t go to the media. Carry on talking to us. We didn’t do anything wrong.” I walked out of that restaurant, knowing that I had to go to the media. Because Martin was just simply… covering for himself.’
A lawyer advised Mr Wiessler to find a ‘good journalist’ and he turned to The Mail On Sunday’s Nick Fielding, who broke the story about how Mr Bashir had commissioned the fake bank statements.
Yet the graphic designer paid a heavy price. Work dried up and in 1999 he left the TV industry.
‘When I set up a production company together with an ex-colleague, I felt there was a cloud over that business because, constantly, I was being associated with these documents that I had produced for the Diana film,’ he says.
‘The effect that this scandal has had on my life is that I lost faith a little bit, lost trust of people. I’ve become a bit more cynical. I’ve been hoping that something would come along to clear my name.’
Last night, the BBC repeated its pledge to hold a ‘robust investigation’ into Earl Spencer’s claims.
It said that the probe would ‘have the appropriate independence people expect’. Despite Mr Bashir’s visit to the Rajdoot Indian restaurant and a branch of the Nicolas wine chain on Friday night, the Corporation continued to insist it was unable to speak to the journalist.
‘Unfortunately, we are hampered at the moment by the simple fact that we are unable to discuss any of this with Martin Bashir, as he remains seriously unwell,’ said a spokesman.
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