The graphic designer who said he mocked-up fake bank statements at the request of Martin Bashir in order to obtain an interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, has claimed that his career in the media was derailed when top BBC managers secretly banned him from working for the corporation.
Matt Wiessler has said he was made to be the “fall guy” for the actions of Bashir, after it was claimed that the journalist had used false financial records in 1995 to win the trust of Earl Spencer and interview his sister Diana.
“It’s quite something to make a decision to blacklist list me without ever asking me for my side of the story,” Wiessler told the Guardian.
The graphic designer said he only recently learned that he had been banned for life from working for the corporation in 1996 as a result of the same internal BBC investigation that cleared Bashir of wrongdoing: “It’s a bit like blaming a fountain pen for writing a nasty letter.”
He also raised questions about who at the BBC decided to re-employ Bashir as a correspondent in 2016, despite bosses knowing he had been the subject of serious allegations: “When I heard he’d got the job as head of religion, I fell off the sofa. I couldn’t believe it.”
At the time the designer was an award-winning star of the BBC’s graphics department who helped mastermind the graphics for the BBC’s 1992 election night coverage while still in his 20s. He worked with Peter Snow and David Dimbleby to reinvent the “swingometer” as a pioneering computer-driven interactive graphic that has come to define British general election coverage. His work won him a prestigious Royal Television Society award, alongside a personal note of praise from then-BBC News boss Tony Hall, who would later become the corporation’s director general.
He had just quit the corporation to start his own freelance television graphics business when a call came from Bashir requesting an urgent mock-up of a bank statement.
“I came home and there was a phone call saying: ‘Hey, can you do something for me?’,” said Wiessler, who followed the journalist’s instructions and delivered the graphics after a frantic’s night work, unaware of how it would be used or its significance.
It is claimed Bashir used the fake documents to convince Earl Spencer that the media were paying associates of the family for information on Diana. By the time the allegations had surfaced the interview had already been a global ratings success for the BBC and turned Bashir into a household name.
According to recently released documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the BBC then launched an internal inquiry led by Hall, which concluded Bashir “wasn’t thinking” when he commissioned the graphic but was ultimately an “honest and honourable man”.
What had not been made public until this year is that the same inquiry, presented to the BBC board, concluded that Wiessler should never work for the corporation, in part because he had spoken to the media about the incident.
Wiessler said he was shocked to read the findings: “I didn’t find this out until three months ago … The only outcome of that board meeting was that Martin was naughty but an honest man – and Matt cannot work for the BBC again.”
He said he was never formally told of his ban but his new company’s work with the BBC dried up, severely damaging a young business that specialised in producing graphics for current affairs television programmes in the UK: “Everyone was briefed, a lot of graphic designers said: ‘Boys, we can’t talk to you, word is out, you’ve been naughty’ … It just filtered through the organisation.”
After a few years he drifted out of the media industry and is now co-owner of a Devon bicycle design business. He said the incident had had a major impact on his life: “My three children know me as ‘the forger’. We make jokes at home but it’s not really that funny. We associate a ‘forger’ with someone that’s in prison.”
The BBC has pledged to hold a fresh inquiry into the events that led to the interview but Wiessler said he just wanted someone to say sorry: “I want a pretty comprehensive apology and I want the people who were a part of this process to explain themselves to an independent commissioner.”
“I didn’t have any intent to do anything with that document … Has that damaged my life? To this day I’m talking to the media to clear my name.”