Diana's ex-chauffeur settles slander claim against BBC

Diana the Princess of Wales during her interview with Martin Bashir for Panorama Special in 1995.
Stephen Davies was "devastated" by the termination of his employment with the Princess of Wales [BBC]

Princess Diana's former chauffeur has settled a High Court slander case with the BBC over claims he leaked information about her before her famous Panorama interview.

Stephen Davies was the Princess of Wales’ chauffeur at the time of her TV interview with Martin Bashir in November 1995 - but was sacked without explanation in March 1996.

Mr Davies took legal action against the BBC after a probe revealed a document from a meeting in September 1995 which stated that Diana and her brother Earl Spencer were told by Mr Bashir that Mr Davies "feeds Today newspaper... change your chauffeur".

The BBC said it accepted that the allegation "was and is wholly false".

Carter-Ruck, the solicitors for Mr Davies, told a hearing on Tuesday that the corporation had accepted that the "serious and unfounded" allegation had been "fabricated".

It said the BBC had agreed to pay a "sum of compensation" and his legal costs.

Mr Davies said in a statement via the legal firm that he was relieved to have been able to clear his name and his professional reputation as a chauffeur.

He said he had been shocked to hear that false allegations which "were very likely to be the cause of my sudden termination" had been made about him almost 30 years ago.

Carter-Ruck said the lawyer representing Mr Davies, Persephone Bridgman Baker, told the hearing before Mrs Justice Steyn that the implication Mr Davies had leaked confidential information was a "serious blot on his character".

He had been "devastated" when his role with the princess was terminated, she said.

"He had maintained a close professional relationship with the princess throughout the many years he had worked for her and he was given no reason for the termination."

He had been "tormented" by speculation about what possible reason there could be for the ending of his employment, and was "acutely embarrassed" about his dismissal, she said.

It was a matter of "profound regret" to Mr Davies that, "as he now knows, the princess believed that he had betrayed her, and he was unable to correct the position before her tragic death".

Ms Bridgman Baker added that the allegations against Mr Davies, who still works as a chauffeur, had since been repeated in the Netflix series The Crown.

Carter-Ruck added that Samuel Rowe, appearing for the BBC at the hearing, said the corporation wished to publicly apologise to Mr Davies for the publication of the allegation and the distress it had caused.

"The BBC accepts that the allegation made about the claimant was and is wholly false and should never have been made, and that it constitutes an attack on the claimant's reputation both personally and professionally."

The corporation accepted the claim was likely to have caused Diana to doubt Mr Davies's "loyalty and professionalism" - and "may well have contributed to the claimant's redundancy six months later".

"The BBC is sorry for the distress and harm suffered by the claimant. It is pleased that the parties have been able to resolve these issues."

The BBC Panorama sit-down interview with Diana and Mr Bashir was broadcast on 20 November 1995 - when she was separated from the then Prince Charles, but not yet divorced - and featured her saying: "Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded".

A subsequent independent inquiry by Lord Dyson, a former senior judge, in 2021 found that the BBC had covered up Mr Bashir's "deceitful behaviour", and that the journalist was in "serious breach" of the BBC's producer guidelines when he faked bank statements and showed them to the earl to gain access to Diana.

Diana's sons, Princes William and Harry, condemned the broadcaster for its treatment of their mother and the corporation has since vowed not to air the interview again.