Leveson Inquiry questioning to start in November

Oral evidence in the first part of the inquiry into media ethics and phone hacking could start next month, Lord Justice Leveson said yesterday.

In a preliminary hearing for the inquiry he said the evidence, which is likely to be televised live, could start as soon as the second week of November.

The first part of the inquiry will look at the culture, ethics and practices of the press and its relationship with the police and politicians.

In preliminary discussions at the High Court, Lord Justice Leveson said: “The present thinking is, and I am not committing to this, that we are unable to be likely to start before the second week in November.”

The Leveson Inquiry, announced by David Cameron in July, aims to produce a report within a year.

Lord Justice Leveson said: “I am not going to be overly constrained but I am very keen to keep the focus because I am conscious that whatever I come up with is likely to generate a debate.

“A debate among the media, who may or may not be polite, a debate among the political groups and a reconsideration of the way, perhaps, regulation or self-regulation, whatever comes out, is organised, which everybody is going to want to get on with.

“Which is why this part of the inquiry has to be before the normal timing which is when the police have finished whatever they want to do.

“It strikes me that the imperative is not merely a pressure to do what I have been asked to do, it is because it is actually very important to achieve something, broadly within from what is now about a year.”

He said he could take three years, or five years, but added: “But I am not sure that serves the interest of the public.”

‘Inquiry puts the cart before the horse’

Lord Justice Leveson said the inquiry was different from other probes generated by specific events such as the Hillsborough disaster.

“The first problem is that a lot of precise detail which is normally the starting point for an inquiry is, or may be, tied up in the investigation being undertaken by police.

“Therefore to some extent, as has been observed and I have said, the inquiry puts the cart before the horse because if I were to wait for the police investigation it would not start in a time to be measured in not weeks, and not months, I don’t know.”

He would be taking advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions about how “far” he could go, without prejudicing the police investigation.

Lord Justice Leveson repeated assurances that the inquiry will be “open, transparent and fair”, and again encouraged everyone involved to work together.

The hearing was told that some newspapers had produced material required for the inquiry on time, while others had requested extensions, and Lord Leveson said he was grateful to both.

“Everybody has got to help, I am very sorry but that’s the nature of the beast and it isn’t in anybody’s interest that this takes longer than it need take.

“There are issues which have to be addressed and we have all got to address them and to that extent if different groups have different ways of working and want to suggest approaches then I am very prepared to receive them.”

Charlotte Church requests ore participant status

In another development, singer Charlotte Church and former Crimewatch presenter Jacqui Hames asked to be included in the inquiry.

Barrister David Sherborne, who represents a group of alleged victims, applied at the hearing for the two celebrities to be added to the list of Core Participants (CPs) in the first stage of the inquiry, saying that both were victims of hacking by News Group Newspapers and other “media wrongdoing”.

If the applications – on which Lord Justice Leveson will decide at a later date – are successful, it will take the total group of victims who are Core Participants in the inquiry to 48.

The group, represented by Mr Sherborne, already includes actress Sienna Miller, PR guru Max Clifford, serving MPs, and Christopher Shipman, son of mass murderer Harold Shipman.

Other core participants include former MPs such as Lord Prescott and Mark Oaten, as well as football agent Sky Andrew and Coronation Street actress Shobna Gulati.

Lord Justice Leveson had previously refused to give Rebekah Brooks, former editor of The Sun, The News of the World and chief executive officer of News International, Core Participant status, saying her involvement was more focused on the second part of the inquiry.

Today he also refused the status to Elaine Decoulos, who applied in person during the hearing, saying she had libelled by newspapers in Scotland, England and the United States.

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