The BBC yesterday paid around £200,000 (AUD$346,000) to a former royal nanny who was subjected to ‘totally baseless’ libel by Martin Bashir.
Tim Davie, the company’s chief executive, also issued a humiliating apology to Tiggy Legge-Bourke as well as Prince Charles and his sons William and Harry.
A court had heard that Miss Legge-Bourke suffered significant damage and was distraught for 25 years following ‘false and malicious allegations’.
Although he was not named at the hearing, the false claims were allegedly made by Bashir while working on a BBC Panorama interview with Princess Diana.
Miss Legge-Bourke said the ‘false narrative’ created by the program had ‘haunted’ the Royal Family since it aired in 1995.
An official statement, accepted by the former nanny and the BBC, said she had been the victim of “very serious and totally unfounded” allegations that she had an affair with Charles which resulted in an aborted pregnancy.
These allegations, the statement said, had been “fabricated” and a series of false claims had left the former nanny “extremely upset and confused”.
The court was told that the lies had caused “serious personal consequences for all involved”.
Bashir allegedly made a series of insults about Miss Legge-Bourke in a bid to land his notorious interview with Diana.
The document, which was read out to the High Court in London, revealed the Princess ‘became angry’ with Miss Legge-Bourke without apparent justification after learning of the allegations.
Miss Legge-Bourke, who is now known as Alexandra Pettifer, said she and her family “continued to face suspicion and disbelief” following the allegations.
It was added that “a long shadow has been cast over relationships with near and dear ones”.
In a devastating section of the agreed statement, it was said that she and her family could have been spared 25 years of lies, suspicion and upheaval if the BBC had not “failed”.
Last year’s devastating Lord Dyson report into the Bashir scandal revealed the extent of the ‘deceptive behaviour’ used to secure the interview, which even extended to fake bank statements.
This report revealed that the BBC had carried out a “woefully ineffective” internal investigation into the matter.
The BBC’s part of yesterday’s statement said the company wanted to ‘publicly apologize’ to Miss Legge-Bourke without reservation, saying the allegations were ‘completely baseless’.
He added: ‘The BBC is extremely sorry for the seriousness and claimant and historical shortcomings of the investigation.’
Miss Legge-Bourke said in her statement: ‘I am disappointed that it took legal action for the BBC to recognize the serious harm I have suffered.
“Sadly, I am one of many people whose lives have been scarred by the misleading way in which the BBC Panorama was made and the BBC’s subsequent failure to properly investigate the making of the programme.
“The distress caused to the Royal Family is a source of great sorrow to me. I know firsthand how impacted they were at the time, and how the program and the false narrative it created haunted the family in the years that followed.
“Especially because, even today, so much about the making of the program has yet to be adequately explained.”
Mr Davie has publicly apologized to Miss Legge-Bourke and Princes Charles, William and Harry for the way Diana was ‘deceived’ and the impact it had on their whole lives.
He added that the BBC had “failed to ask the hard questions” and if they had done their job properly the princess would have known the truth in her lifetime.
Mr Davie added: ‘We have failed her, the Royal Family and our audience.
But although he said the company would never show the program again – or license it in whole or in part to others – he did not rule out the BBC using short extracts “for journalistic purposes. “.
He said any future use would have to be agreed at the highest level of the company.
It’s the latest in a string of costly payouts caused by the tactics of rogue journalist Bashir.
The settlement for Miss Legge-Bourke is believed to be lower than that received by graphic designer Matt Wiessler, who denounced Bashir and was later blacklisted by the company.
He is believed to have received £500,000 (AUD865,000) as part of his BBC deal.
Earlier this year the company paid £100,000 (AUD173,000) to Diana’s former private secretary, Patrick Jephson, along with an apology for the “harm caused to him”.
He donated the entire money to charity.
Mark Killick, a former Panorama senior reporter, was paid around £50,000 (AUD 86,000) by the BBC, which defamed him after he exposed Bashir.
The broadcaster is also said to have donated more than £1.5million (A$2.5million) to a charity selected by the Royal Family after the fallout from the Dyson report.
This payment has still not been made.
The payment for Miss Legge-Bourke is equivalent to the cost of 1258 TV licenses at £159 (275 AUD) each.
Earl Spencer’s former security chief Alan Waller is also set to be compensated after he was falsely accused by Bashir of selling information on Diana.
Lawyers for the former nanny said the damages payment was intended ‘to uphold his reputation’ and to try to compensate him for the ‘serious harm and distress’ caused by his time it took for these questions to be revealed.
They said Miss Legge-Bourke held the BBC responsible for the “serious impact” the allegations had on her.
Their statement said that in September 1995 Earl Spencer, Diana’s brother, learned that Prince Charles was in love with the former nanny and that they had spent a “secret vacation” together.
Then in October 1995 – when BBC negotiations with Diana for her Panorama appearance were at a “critical stage” – the Princess informed her lawyer that she had been told Miss Legge-Bourke had had an abortion.
On Thursday, it was said the former nanny felt she had to prove to others that the allegations were completely untrue and revealed “very sensitive matters, including private medical information” in the process.
The statement noted: ‘Unfortunately Diana, Princess of Wales could not be convinced even when compelling evidence was presented.’
Kensington Palace declined to comment on the latest developments.
Last year, however, William issued a robust and deeply moving statement lambasting the BBC in the strongest terms for its handling of the scandal.
He is known to still be deeply upset by what his late mother went through and is a passionate believer that the interview should never see the light of day in any form again.
Friends recently told the Daily Mail he was also mature enough to understand “that was then, this is now” and will continue to work with the national broadcaster.
But they added that no one should be under any illusions about their fury at Bashir’s actions and the ensuing cover-up.