UK

Phone-hacking: Judge will use powers to demand evidence

The judge leading the public inquiry into the phone-hacking scandal says he will use his powers to demand evidence from witnesses "as soon as possible".

Lord Justice Leveson said he would also invite all editors, journalists and media owners to flag up what they saw as "inappropriate" practices.

His inquiry will examine press ethics and practices in relation to the public, politicians and police.

Public hearings will begin in September and he will report back within a year.

"It may be tempting for a number of people to close ranks and suggest the problem is or was local to a small group of journalists then operating at the News of the World," said Lord Justice Leveson.

"I would encourage all to take a wider picture of the public good, and help me grapple with the length, width and depth of the problem as it exists."

Lord Justice Leveson said he would not have accepted the role had he "the slightest doubt" about his position.

It emerged last week that the judge had attended functions with News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch's son-in-law, but that he had informed Prime Minister David Cameron before his appointment was announced.

Mr Murdoch has been questioned by MPs over allegations of widespread phone-hacking at his group's Sunday tabloid newspaper, the News of the World, which was shut down earlier this month.

Media ethics

The inquiry will stage a preliminary hearing in September, ahead of a series of seminars in October on topics such as the law, media regulation, ethics of journalism and the practice and pressures of investigative reporting.

"At some stage, there needs to be a discussion of what amounts to the public good, to what extent the public interest should be taken into account and by whom," said Lord Justice Leveson.

Similar seminars would be held later in relation to press relationships with police and politicians, and on the plurality of the media and cross-media ownership, he said.

A second section of the inquiry, looking into specific phone-hacking allegations, will begin only once police investigations have been completed.

However, Martin Moore, from research group the Media Standards Trust, said detail was needed about how opinions of the public and hacking victims would be heard.

The role of the Metropolitan Police has come under the microscope since the phone-hacking scandal arose, with allegations that officers took money from the News of the World for information and claims that the force did not investigate phone-hacking allegations thoroughly enough.

Sir Paul Stephenson resigned as Commissioner of the Met after it emerged that the paper's former executive editor Neil Wallis had been employed by Scotland Yard as a public relations consultant.

Sir Paul, who said he had had no knowledge of the extent of the phone hacking, said lessons needed to be learned but that he was leaving with his integrity intact.

His temporary replacement, Acting Commissioner Tim Godwin, was being questioned on Thursday by members of the Metropolitan Police Authority.

He told them that corruption was "in no way endemic" in the force.

However, he added: "It would be foolish for me if I didn't acknowledge the perceptions that have been created over the past weeks."

Media hospitality

Mr Godwin said the Met should therefore examine its media relations and promised it would publish detailed records of gifts and hospitality provided for senior officers by media organisations "within weeks".

Keith Vaz, who as Home Affairs committee chairman criticised the Met for failing to prioritise the interests of hacking victims, said the public inquiry would take much longer than the 12 months initially envisaged.

Lord Justice Leveson would want to "write the script" for press regulation and future relations between the media and public figures, said Mr Vaz.

The MP also called for a meeting between the judge and committee chairmen involved in the various Parliamentary inquiries into the affair to ensure they did not "tread on his toes".

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