Former director of BBC News James Harding has refused to answer questions on whether former director-general Lord Hall had any role in the rehiring of Martin Bashir in 2016.
Harding, who held the post between 2013 and 2018, said he was sorry Bashir had returned to the corporation because it had made things “more difficult for everyone” in the wake of Lord Dyson’s blistering report and that responsibility for the rehiring “sits with me”.
Bashir left the BBC in 1999, four years after his Panorama interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, to join ITV. In 2016, he was rehired as religious affairs correspondent, before becoming religion editor.
Earlier this month, he stepped down from the role and left the BBC, citing health reasons due to Covid-19 complications, shortly before the publication of the Lord Dyson report.
Harding told BBC News: “Of course, this is really distressing for everyone and depressing for anyone who cares about journalism and cares about the BBC, and so I do want to be clear, I wanted to say that so much of what is known now was not known then, and certainly not known by me.”
Harding said he was not aware Bashir had forged bank statements and said that if he had known he would not have given him the job.
“I can’t help feeling that the fact he was hired back in 2016 has made things more difficult for everyone so I am sorry he was,” he said.
Harding added: “The way I look at this and the way I think about it is that I was running BBC News when Martin Bashir was hired back into BBC News and so the responsibility for that sits with me.”
Asked whether former director-general Lord Hall, who led an internal investigation into the Diana interview in 1996, had any involvement in the rehiring of Bashir, he said: “What I was saying is that BBC News hired Martin Bashir and so the responsibility for that sits with me.
“Lord Dyson’s report, as I understand and as I read, has clearly spoken to Lord Hall at some length. In terms of rehiring, the rehiring was done by BBC News. I ran BBC News, the responsibility for it sits with me.”
As part of his inquiry, Lord Dyson did not investigate why Bashir was rehired by the BBC because he did not consider it “sufficiently closely related” to his terms of reference.