Leveson: Journalists can testify anonymously

Journalists look set to be able to give evidence anonymously to the Leveson Inquiry into the phone-hackig scandal, a preliminary hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice heard this morning.

The session was convened by Lord Justice Leveson to iron out the final details ahead of the formal evidence-gathering process, which is expected to begin in mid-November.

At the hearing Leveson granted the National Union of Journalists “core participant” status, and he indicated that one way for journalists to give evidence anonymously might be to do so via the union.

The court heard the inquiry had been approached by a number of journalists interested in giving evidence to the inquiry on an anonymous basis.

Leveson said that, now the NUJ had core participant status, ‘it may that journalists will feel able to communicate with their union’and that ‘evidence will be forthcoming which will be based on sources which a journalist is unable to identify”.

Anonymous journalists would be asked to comment on the general practice, ethics and culture of their workplace without identifying who they worked for.

Leveson was also keen for journalists who approached the inquiry to be confident that their names will not be put into the public domain.

Meanwhile, a lawyer representing Surrey Police argued the force should also be granted core participant status.

He argued that the inquiry was likely to result in further bad press for the police force, which has been criticised for not pursuing evidence Dowler’s phone was hacked by the News of the World back in 2002, and also claimed evidence had emerged suggesting a number of Surrey Police officers had been victims of phone-hacking at the time of the investigation into Milly Dowler’s disappearance.

Leveson replied: ‘I’m afraid that everyone is going to have to get used to comment and opinion being expressed in the public domain and grin and bear it.”

He added: ‘I have been surprised by some of the things being put in the public domain about me but I’m prepared to accept it. That’s what a free press is all about.”

Neil Garnham QC, acting for the Met Police and the Crown Prosecution Service, claimed that allegations made during the Leveson Inquiry could create a substantial risk to the Met’s Operation Weeting and any subsequent criminal investigations.

He warned that Part One of the inquiry – which looks into the culture and ethics of the newsroom – needed to ‘very careful’about the level of detail that was disclosed.

Leveson said that one solution could be to refer to individuals by ciphers or codes, which would avoid bringing the upcoming criminal trials into contempt.

David Sherborne, who acts for a number of phone-hacking victims, said his clients would avoid ‘naming names’when they give evidence at the trial next month.

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