The major players in the Leveson Inquiry drama

A star-studded cast of major players took to the stage for months of explosive evidence revealing the British press at its worst, and at its best.

Alleged victims, political heavyweights and media barons took their place one by one in the witness box.

Celebrities recounted traumatic tales of being hounded, their private lives splashed across news stands, and struggling to understand how the newspapers got the details they so desperately tried to keep from them.

Sienna Miller became suspicious of all of her friends, while Mary-Ellen Field lost her job as assistant to Elle Macpherson when she was seen as the only possible source of information.

Sienna Miller

Sheryl Gascoigne described having to crawl around her home to avoid being pictured, and Harry Potter author JK Rowling wished she could have put an invisibility cloak on her home.

Perhaps most heartbreaking was the evidence of Bob and Sally Dowler, whose joy at getting through to their missing daughter's voicemail was dashed by the allegation it was apparently hacked and some messages deleted.

It was the revelations concerning Milly's phone that sparked national outrage and proved the catalyst for the inquiry.

As well as the Dowlers, others described their treatment at the hands of what was portrayed as a callous, vicious print media, desperate for a story at all costs.

Kate McCann felt like "climbing into a hole" and not coming out after her intensely personal diaries were published in the News of the World, and Christopher Jefferies - wrongly accused of the murder of Joanna Yeates - became the subject of a "witch-hunt", forced to live a "hole-in-the-wall existence".

Kate and Gerry McCann

Their testimonies showed the worst excesses of the British media and they all agreed on the need for better regulation and more speedy redress when newspapers overstep the mark.

Reporters and editors, some admitting mistakes were made, maintained the importance of the free press in holding the country's public figures to account.

Some echoed tales told by victims, painting a picture of a world where reporters stopped at nothing for a story.

Former News of the World reporter Paul McMullan said he "loved" chasing celebrities, while former Daily Star employee Richard Peppiatt told how he made stories up to satisfy pressure from above.

Paul McMullen

But others insisted they acted in the public interest, and while widely condemning illegality, argued for the need to push the limits if they are to expose wrongdoing.

Journalists, editors and proprietors lined up to give evidence, some admitting the drive for a good story had occasionally gone too far, with all agreeing that newspapers serve the public interest.

Stories from broadsheet journalists, recounting efforts to unmask corruption and sleaze, lay alongside those of their tabloid counterparts, keen to expose household names for their transgressions.

But in their motives both sides agreed - they did what they did in the public interest, to expose hypocritical and unethical behaviour of some of the nation's top figures.

Christopher Jefferies

Next in the spotlight were the country's top police officers. Several careers had already suffered at the hands of the uncomfortable closeness of News International and the Met, and that discomfort only became more acute in the wake of stories of newspapers entertaining police chiefs, "calling in" bottles of champagne, and the now-famous horse loaned by Scotland Yard.

As the focus switched to the upper echelons of Britain's political world, key figures in the current Government were forced to take centre stage.

Not just the current PM, but predecessors Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and Lord Major described their own, sometimes troubled, relationships with the media.

Amid the political posturing came more embarrassing tales of the interplay between the worlds of politics and media.

Tony Blair

The inquiry heard of cosy meet-ups between David Cameron and Rebekah Brooks, as well as their now-notorious text messages, along with amusing anecdotes of angry exchanges between other politicians and editors.

All that was even before the intriguing revelations surrounding the BSkyB bid and Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt's relationship with News Corp lobbyist Fred Michel.

As the Leveson drama progressed through its first act, the narrators remained constant, linking each scene to the next.

Rebekah Brooks

Counsel to the inquiry Robert Jay QC, David Barr, and "woman on the left" Carine Patry Hoskins maintained a methodical approach as they verbally stalked their prey, while sharp-dressing David Sherborne, representing the "victims", appeared to enjoy every minute in the spotlight, relishing his soliloquies in front of a packed courtroom.

At the top of the tree sat Lord Justice Leveson, the man who arguably holds the fate of the British press in his hands - clearly producer, director, and ultimately the star of his own show.

Lord Justice Leveson

Tags: 

Sign up for our free weekly digital magazine, Press Gazette Journalism Weekly, and daily newsletter
To contact Press Gazette with a story call 0207 936 6433
or email pged@pressgazette.co.uk
To advertise, please call 0207 936 6764.