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Tony Hall resigns from National Gallery after Diana interview report

The BBC’s former director-general has quit his role as chair of the National Gallery.

1995 Panorama interview
1995 Panorama interview
Image: PA

Updated May 22nd 2021, 4:02 PM

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.

Hall, who was heavily criticised in the Dyson report for his 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 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.”

2.39719553 Tony Hall Source: PA

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

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. 

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.

“I just want transparency and answers from the BBC,” Knight told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

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.

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

“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.”

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.

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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.

William condemned the BBC in a statement saying the interview had fuelled his mother’s “fear, paranoia and isolation” in the final years of her life and damaged her relationship with the Prince of Wales.

Harry also hit out at the corporation, saying: “The ripple effect of a culture of exploitation and unethical practices ultimately took her life.”

During a visit to Portsmouth yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “obviously concerned” by the inquiry’s findings”, adding: “I can only imagine the feelings of the royal family and I hope very much that the BBC will be taking every possible step to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.”

Former BBC executive Tim Suter, who was part of the 1996 internal investigation, stepped down from his current board role with media watchdog Ofcom in the wake of the report.

Suter had previously been managing editor of weekly programmes in BBC News and current affairs.

Dame Melanie Dawes, Ofcom’s chief executive, said: “By mutual agreement, Tim Suter, Ofcom board member and chair of Ofcom’s content board, is stepping down with immediate effect. We would like to thank Tim for his contribution to Ofcom.”

She also confirmed the watchdog would be entering discussions with the BBC “to ensure that this situation can never be repeated”.

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