'The Thunderer' thunders:
The Times view on Tiggy Legge-Bourke and Panorama: BBC Betrayal
The corporation treated Princes William and Harry’s former nanny disgracefullyThat the former nanny to Princes William and Harry should have been defamed by a false rumour that she had become pregnant by Prince Charles is scandalous. That this rumour should have emanated from the BBC is appalling. And that in order to extract an apology from the corporation she has had to wait a quarter of a century and take it to court is beyond belief.Tiggy Legge-Bourke, as she was called when she worked for the royal family, was a victim of a scheme cooked up by Martin Bashir, a BBC reporter, in 1995 to persuade Princess Diana that those around her were in league with her husband and conspiring against her. Bashir hoped this would persuade the princess to grant an interview to the BBC’s Panorama programme.The plan involved spreading a false rumour that Ms Legge-Bourke, now known as Alexandra Pettifer, had had an abortion as a result of an affair with Prince Charles. According to a joint statement by Pettifer and the BBC, released as part of a court settlement, Princess Diana believed this rumour; not even the sharing of private medical information would persuade her it was untrue. Ms Pettifer says that her life was scarred by it. Ms Pettifer was one of many harmed by Bashir’s wicked scheme, most notably the princess and her family. Prince William said last year, when Lord Dyson’s report into the deceit and cover-up was published, “it brings indescribable sadness to know that the BBC’s failures contributed significantly to [my mother’s] fear, paranoia and isolation that I remember from those final years with her”.Other victims included those brave enough to question Bashir’s methods. Matt Wiessler, a graphic designer who became suspicious about how his work was being used by the reporter, was never allowed to work for the BBC again. Mark Killick, a Panorama producer, was fired 24 hours after raising concerns about how Bashir had got that interview, and was subsequently defamed.The financial cost to the BBC is considerable. It is to pay Ms Pettifer £200,000 in damages; it has paid Commander Patrick Jephson, Princess Diana’s former private secretary, £100,000, and Mr Killick £50,000; last year it agreed a settlement with Mr Wiessler worth potentially £750,000. Lord Dyson’s review cost £1.4 million, and the BBC has paid £1.5 million to a charity chosen by the royal family.The cost to the corporation’s reputation is incalculable. At a time when the rise of streaming platforms is undermining the BBC’s economic raison d’être, one of the main justifications for its continued financing through the licence fee is a moral one. The BBC should represent, at home and to the rest of the world, the highest standards in broadcasting. In the lies told and the pain caused in the making of this programme, it has fallen far from that aspiration.Tim Davie, the BBC’s director-general, took the opportunity of the settlement with Ms Pettifer to apologise to her, to the Prince of Wales and to William and Harry. The Panorama programme, he said, would never be screened again, in Britain or elsewhere. After many years of near-silence from the corporation’s leaders, Davie’s profuse apology is welcome, but it is not enough. The BBC has yet to come clean about who was to blame for the cover-up of Bashir’s duplicity. If it is to regain the moral authority that a public-service broadcaster should enjoy, it needs to do so now.