Lord Hall quits National Gallery role after BBC turmoil over Diana interview

Former BBC director-general Lord Tony Hall has quit as chairman of the National Gallery amid the continuing turmoil over the corporation’s Panorama interview with Diana, Princess of Wales in 1995.

Lord Hall, who was heavily criticised in the Dyson report for his botched inquiry into how the interview was obtained, said his continued presence at the gallery would be “distraction”.

The report by former master of the rolls Lord Dyson found the internal BBC investigation had covered up the “deceitful behaviour” of reporter Martin Bashir.

In a statement Lord Hall said: “I have today resigned as chair of the National Gallery.

“I have always had a strong sense of public service and it is clear my continuing in the role would be a distraction to an institution I care deeply about.

“As I said two days ago, I am very sorry for the events of 25 years ago and I believe leadership means taking responsibility.”

His resignation comes after another former BBC executive involved in the 1996 internal investigation, Tim Suter, announced on Friday that he was stepping down from his board role with media watchdog Ofcom.

Lord Hall, who in 1996 was director of BBC news and current affairs, led the investigation which exonerated Bashir, even though he had previously admitted lying about the fake documents he used in obtaining the interview.

He was director-general when Bashir was controversially rehired by the BBC as religious affairs correspondent in 2016 and later promoted to religion editor.

Martin Bashir
Martin Bashir was exonerated by Lord Hall even though he admitted lying (Ian West/PA)

The chairman of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee Julian Knight has called on current director-general Tim Davie to provide a full explanation as to how Bashir came to be re-employed.

Mr Knight said that some people may suspect that the journalist was given the religion job as a way of keeping quiet about what exactly he knew.

“That is certainly something which some may be suspicious about,” Mr Knight told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“If they knew he had lied previously and also he’d had to resign from a mediocre American network, why was he good enough for the BBC?

“I just want transparency and answers from the BBC,” he added.

Mr Knight said the BBC should now consider paying compensation to “whistleblowers” who had had their careers damaged after raising concerns about the way Bashir had operated.

He pointed to the case of graphic designer Matt Wiessler, who was sidelined after informing BBC bosses that Bashir had asked him to mock up a series of fake bank statements.

The false documents were used by the reporter to try to persuade Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, that people close to her were in the pay of the press.

Mr Knight said Mr Davie should now meet Mr Wiessler to hear directly what he had to say.

Matt Wiessler
Matt Wiessler was sidelined after raising concerns about Mr Bashir (John Hall/ITV/PA)

“He is clearly very emotional, he feels this has probably impaired his life to a certain degree,” the MP told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“I think the BBC needs to have a real open mind in terms of the possibility of compensation but also how it interacts with people like Mr Wiessler who clearly have faced quite profound consequences due to this fiasco.”

Mr Knight said there was a need for further reform at the BBC, and he called for a strengthening of editorial policy within the corporation.

“I do have concerns with the BBC that editorial policy does not have a loud enough voice and there is a bit of kowtowing to talent,” he said.

However, he questioned a proposal by former BBC chairman Lord Grade for a new editorial board to oversee its journalism.

“I do wonder whether or not it will be a talking shop full of people with big salaries. The BBC does have a lot of boards,” he told the Today programme.

Despite the furore, Mr Knight said that he did not believe it would affect the BBC’s negotiations with the Government over the licence fee.

“I think that the Government is committed to renewing the charter,” he told Times Radio.

“There will be a discussion over whether or not they offer a flat cash offer to the BBC or whether or not they have an inflation-linked increase to the licence fee.

“But I don’t think, per se, this scandal will impact those negotiations.”