STEPHEN GLOVER: How can Tony Hall cling on to high office?

STEPHEN GLOVER: How can Lord Clueless Tony Hall cling on to high office?

When a man behaves abominably it is natural to concentrate one’s fire on him. So it is with Martin Bashir, who has emerged from a report by former senior judge Lord Dyson, and a BBC1 Panorama programme shown on Thursday evening, as a deceitful and mendacious person.

What he did in gaining the trust of Diana, Princess of Wales and her brother, Earl Spencer, was despicable. He appears to have been so determined to make a name for himself — in which endeavour he certainly succeeded — that he cast all decency aside.

There was another man in this drama, though, whose actions have not been fully considered. Unlike Martin Bashir, he did not set out with a self-interested motive. But his response to the revelations of Bashir’s perfidy was morally wanting. He also stands accused of being at the centre of a cover-up.

There’s no disputing that Lord Hall displayed remarkable ineptitude in his investigation into Bashir’s chicanery in early 1996

BBC grab from video of Earl Spencer, the brother of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, appearing on Panorama

Lord Hall has many questions to answer — perhaps more than Bashir, who has been effectively skewered both by Lord Dyson and his erstwhile programme, Panorama.

I am speaking of Tony Hall — Lord Hall — who was Managing Director of BBC News at the time of the interview. Having later left the Corporation, he returned to the surprise of many to become its Director-General in 2013, and stayed until last year. One of the ‘great and good’, he is now chairman of the board of trustees of the National Gallery.

There’s no disputing that Lord Hall displayed remarkable ineptitude in his investigation into Bashir’s chicanery in early 1996, a few months after the controversial interview with Diana. In strikingly unjudicial language, Lord Dyson says that he and his deputy Anne Sloman were ‘woefully ineffective’.

In particular, Lord Hall did not interview Lord Spencer, which Lord Dyson calls ‘a big mistake’. Bashir had shown some faked bank statements to Lord Spencer, which led him to introduce the journalist to his sister Diana — with calamitous consequences.

Lord Dyson also criticises Lord Hall for declaring that Bashir was an ‘honest and honourable man’ after the bent reporter had dishonestly claimed on three occasions that he hadn’t shown Lord Spencer the notorious bank statements before finally owning up. In other words, Lord Hall knew Bashir was a liar but backed him.

He is also accused by Lord Dyson and the excellent Panorama programme of glossing over Bashir’s serious misconduct both to the BBC’s Board of Management and its Board of Governors.

These are very grave lapses in so senior a figure, and there can be no doubt that if Lord Hall were still on the payroll at the BBC he would be forced to resign.

Perhaps the most serious charge against him, made very forcefully by Panorama, is that he briefed the BBC Press Office incorrectly. Thus after the Mail on Sunday ran a front-page story about the fake bank statements in April 1996, the BBC wrongly repudiated any connection between them and the Diana interview.

BBC journalist Martin Bashir and his wife Deborah at the British Academy TV Awards (Baftas) in London in May 2000

The Martin Bashir interview with Princess Diana in November 1995, which used mocked up bank statements to get her speak

And so the brouhaha ebbed away. ‘The Diana story is probably now dead, unless Spencer talks,’ crowed Anne Sloman. It would have remained dormant until the end of time if Lord Spencer hadn’t made his seismic revelations to this newspaper last autumn.

We can only speculate as to why Lord Hall bent over backwards to protect a man he knew had lied to him on a serious matter. Did he have a particular fondness for Bashir? Was he anxious to protect the good name of BBC journalism, of which Bashir’s activities would make a mockery if they were made public?

Or did he privately welcome the consequences of the interview? For it did not merely cause agony to Diana’s sons, William and Harry — an outcome which I can’t imagine Lord Hall wanted. It also damaged the monarchy.

Whatever his motivations for safeguarding Bashir, Lord Hall threw a cloak over a scandal that has lasted 25 years. He and a few other BBC insiders knew the complete truth, and they decided to keep it to themselves.

Most extraordinarily, in 2016, when Lord Hall was back at the BBC as its Director-General, he approved the appointment of Martin Bashir as Religious Affairs Correspondent. The former rogue reporter, who knew where some bodies were buried, was on board again.

Although Lord Dyson’s report is excellent, it focuses on the fateful interview and its immediate aftermath, and doesn’t concern itself with the question of whether there has been a systematic cover-up.

In general there are far too many official reports, many of whose recommendations are blithely ignored. But there must surely now be a proper inquiry into whether there has been a cover-up at the BBC and, if so, who orchestrated it.

Lord Hall has many questions to answer — perhaps more than Bashir, who has been effectively skewered both by Lord Dyson and his erstwhile programme, Panorama. Lord Birt, Director-General at the time, and apparently kept in the loop by Lord Hall, must also give an account of himself.

Until or unless Lord Hall can counter suspicions that he deliberately buried the facts, his chairmanship of the National Gallery, and even his membership of the House of Lords, should be in jeopardy. It’s time the whole lamentable truth finally came out.

Beeb boss: Lord Hall when he took over as Director-General in 2013

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