BBC reporter Martin Bashir used “deceitful behaviour” to secure a world exclusive interview with Princess Diana.
His methods were in “serious breach” of BBC guidelines, an independent inquiry has ruled.
The 127-page report concluded Bashir “deceived and induced” the Princess’ brother Earl Spencer into setting up the interview.
During the Panorama programme the Princess famously declared “there were three of us in this marriage” – a nod to Camilla Parker Bowles, Prince Charles’ mistress and now wife.
The BBC’s director-general Tim Davie has said the corporation accepts “in full” the finding of Lord Dyson’s report.
Mr Davie added:
“Although the report states that Diana, Princess of Wales, was keen on the idea of an interview with the BBC, it is clear that the process for securing the interview fell far short of what audiences have a right to expect.
“We are very sorry for this.
“Lord Dyson has identified clear failings.
“While today’s BBC has significantly better processes and procedures, those that existed at the time should have prevented the interview being secured in this way.
“The BBC should have made greater effort to get to the bottom of what happened at the time and been more transparent about what it knew.
“While the BBC cannot turn back the clock after a quarter of a century, we can make a full and unconditional apology.
“The BBC offers that today.”
Lord Birt, director-general of the BBC at the time of the interview, said:
“We now know that the BBC harboured a rogue reporter on Panorama who fabricated an elaborate, detailed but wholly false account of his dealings with Earl Spencer and Princess Diana.
“This is a shocking blot on the BBC’s enduring commitment to honest journalism; and it is a matter of the greatest regret that it has taken 25 years for the full truth to emerge.”
Bashir said in a statement:
“This is the second time that I have willingly fully co-operated with an investigation into events more than 25 years ago.
“I apologised then, and I do so again now, over the fact that I asked for bank statements to be mocked up.
“It was a stupid thing to do and was an action I deeply regret.
“But I absolutely stand by the evidence I gave a quarter of a century ago, and again more recently.
“It is saddening that this single issue has been allowed to overshadow the Princess’ brave decision to tell her story, to courageously talk through the difficulties she faced, and, to help address the silence and stigma that surrounded mental health issues all those years ago.
“She led the way in addressing so many of these issues and that’s why I will always remain immensely proud of that interview.”
Lord Dyson, a former Master of the Rolls, was commissioned six months ago to conduct an inquiry into how the programme came to air.
The investigation came in the wake of the 25th anniversary of the interview.
Also, a series of freedom of information requests which suggested the corporation had covered up Bashir’s conduct.
Bashir left the BBC in 1999 for ITV before moving to work in America.
He returned to the BBC in 2016 and was promoted to religion editor.
However, he resigned last week after a series of heart related health problems.