Ex-BBC boss Lord Hall QUITS as chair of the National Gallery amid Martin Bashir scandal

Former BBC boss Lord Hall has quit his Government-backed job as chairman of the National Gallery after he was criticised in the bombshell report into Martin Bashir’s 1995 interview with Princess Diana.

In a resignation statement, the former director general repeated an apology he made two days ago and added: ‘I believe leadership means taking responsibility.’   

Ministers had viewed the peer’s job at the National Gallery as untenable given the museum’s close connection to Prince Charles, its royal patron.

Lord Hall was among corporation bosses who were attacked by Prince William for ‘looking the other way rather than asking tough questions’ in the aftermath of the 1995 Princess Diana interview.

Former BBC boss Lord Hall has quit his Government-backed job as chairman of the National Gallery after he was criticised in the bombshell report into Martin Bashir's 1995 interview with Princess Diana

Former BBC boss Lord Hall has quit his Government-backed job as chairman of the National Gallery after he was criticised in the bombshell report into Martin Bashir's 1995 interview with Princess Diana

Former BBC boss Lord Hall has quit his Government-backed job as chairman of the National Gallery after he was criticised in the bombshell report into Martin Bashir’s 1995 interview with Princess Diana 

In a resignation statement, the former director general repeated an apology he made two days ago and added: 'I believe leadership means taking responsibility'

In a resignation statement, the former director general repeated an apology he made two days ago and added: 'I believe leadership means taking responsibility'

In a resignation statement, the former director general repeated an apology he made two days ago and added: ‘I believe leadership means taking responsibility’ 

Lord Hall of Birkenhead’s statement read: ‘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.’

In response, Sir John Kingman, the deputy chair of the gallery’s board of trustees said Hall had been doing a ‘superb job’ in his role.

He said he was ‘much respected and liked’, adding: ‘The Gallery is extremely sorry to lose him, but of course we entirely understand and respect his decision.’

Dr Gabriele Finaldi, the gallery’s director, said: ‘I would like to express my gratitude to Tony Hall for his excellent work as Chair of Trustees of the National Gallery. 

Diana, Princess of Wales is pictured during her bomshell Panorama interview with BBC journalist Martin Bashir in 1995

Diana, Princess of Wales is pictured during her bomshell Panorama interview with BBC journalist Martin Bashir in 1995

Diana, Princess of Wales is pictured during her bomshell Panorama interview with BBC journalist Martin Bashir in 1995

‘He has demonstrated extraordinary commitment to the Gallery and it has been a great pleasure to work closely with him as we have faced the challenges of Covid and as we prepare to mark the Gallery’s Bicentenary in 2024.’

Lord Hall’s resignation comes after another BBC boss who was criticised by Lord Dyson stepped down from the board of media regulator Ofcom. 

In his report, Lord Dyson rebuked both Lord Hall and Mr Suter for concluding that Martin Bashir’s dealings with Princess Diana were ‘straight and fair’.

Lord Hall, 70, had been clinging on at the National Gallery – to which he was appointed in January 2020 – with a Government source saying it was ‘very difficult to see how he could stay’.

But the source reiterated that any decision to remove him was for the gallery’s trustees. 

His role is understood to have been discussed by individual trustees but the gallery had refused to answer questions on whether the former BBC director-general would address the matter with the board.

National Gallery trustees are ultimately chosen by the Prime Minister under rules set out in law.

Under the terms of the Museums and Galleries Act, the board is responsible for appointing ‘one of their number to be chairman’. 

Trustees can serve for up to five years.

Former director of BBC News James Harding has refused to answer questions on whether Lord Hall had any role in rehiring Bashir as the BBC’s religious affairs editor in 2016. 

Lord Hall had admitted his 1996 investigation into Bashir ‘fell well short of what was required’ and that he was wrong to have given Bashir the ‘benefit of the doubt’. 

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

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

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

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

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.

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 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

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

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

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

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. 

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