The Leveson Inquiry was "compromised" by having to avoid questions that went to the heart of criminal practices at News International and other papers, the barrister representing 50 phone-hacking victims said yesterday.
David Sherborne said that the sheer scale of evidence still emerging should compel the inquiry to continue its work rather than retire. His comments came as Lord Justice Leveson ended 102 days of formal evidence sessions at the Royal Courts of Justice.
Though the inquiry's findings will be published in a report expected at the end of this year, Mr Sherborne said that the examination into press practices and ethics, which began in November last year, would only be comprehensive if further evidence sessions were held after the criminal trials announced by the Crown Prosecution Service yesterday.
Although Lord Justice Leveson noted that “the task” was now done for many involved in the inquiry, he said he and his team would now begin the work of writing the report. Mr Sherborne claimed the inquiry had heard “only the tip of an iceberg”. Fully learning what had happened inside News International, he said, could only happen if the “stables were cleaned out.”
NI's counsel, Rhodri Davies, QC, used the closing session to offer a qualified apology. He told the inquiry the phone-hacking practice at the News of the World was "profoundly wrong and is deeply regretted by News International".
However, despite days of deeply embarrassing evidence that centred on the close relationship between Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and his adviser Adam Smith and James Murdoch's chief lobbyist Fréd Michel, Mr Davies said there was "no evidence" of a deal in News Corp's attempt to take over all of BSkyB. He said the answer to one of the key questions asked during the inquiry (specifically: did politicians ever do deals with Rupert Murdoch?) was "a unanimous and vehement, 'No'". He added: "There was no deal [involving Mr Murdoch] buying The Times in 1981 and there has been no deal since."
The balance of the inquiry's focus was also questioned by Mr Davies, who said a "fraction" of three decades of newspapers had been looked at, mainly those complained about, and that "good" stories had been ignored.
Hints at the new evidence emerging from NI were given last week at a pre-trial hearing of current civil actions against the company. Mr Sherborne told the inquiry that a "significant" recently discovered email between a senior NI executive and a journalist was an "instruction" relating to voicemail interception.
He also said there was a "email-destruction policy" inside the Murdoch-owned group which had been put in place when the actress Sienna Miller began her legal action against the News of the World.
Lessons from Leveson: The most memorable testimony
Bob and Sally Dowler
21 November 2011
The parents of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler were the inquiry's first witnesses. They described the moment when, wrongly, they thought their daughter was still alive: they had been calling the 13-year-old constantly since she disappeared; her voicemail box was full; but then, suddenly, messages became deleted. Mrs Dowler recalled shouting to her husband: "She's picked up her voicemail!" Details behind the deletions will now be examined in a criminal trial.
28 November 2011
Ms Church recalled how, as a 13-year old, Rupert Murdoch had booked her for his wedding to Wendi Deng. "Favourable press" from the tycoon's titles was promised – but waiving her £100,000 fee had ultimately made little difference she said. The Welsh singer explained how her phone was first hacked when she was 17. With a degree of calmness, she described how her family and friends were targeted, and also her mother's attempted suicide following a story about her father's infidelity.
29 November 2011
The former NOTW investigative reporter offered no contrition, no apology and no excuses for any tabloid excesses. His comment that "Privacy is for paedophiles" is now almost a legal legend.
15 March 2012
The former legal manager of The Times admitted he had not provided an "accurate" account to the High Court during the newspaper's defence of its story hacking the identity of the anonymous Nightjack police blogger. Leveson rounded on Brett with a force rarely seen throughout the 10 months of inquiry. News International later said Brett's appearance was a "painful reminder" of conduct failing to meet high standards.
11 May 2012
The appearance of the former chief executive of News International was never likely to disappoint. Her closeness and frequent contact with the Prime Minister was known. But the text message from David Cameron, which ended with "LOL" became an immediate classic. She told the inquiry the PM thought LOL stood for "lots of love" not "laugh out loud". Her choice of a demure outfit with a "Peter Pan" collar gained the attention of fashion writers – a first for the inquiry.
25 April 2012
The former heir to the Murdoch media empire gave the inquiry one of its plate-shifting days, leaving Mr Cameron in a deeply uncomfortable position. Murdoch's account of a Christmas dinner with the Prime Minister during which the men discussed the £8bn BSkyB bid shattered Downing Street's denials. Emails from his former chief lobbyist, Fred Michel, left the Government looking like a wing of the Murdoch organisation, ready to offer insight and intelligence whenever asked.
25 November 2011.
The actress was the first hacking victim to legally take on the might of News International. She described how she had turned on her family and close friends, blaming them for the intimate information about her private life that was appearing in the pages of tabloid newspapers.
24 May 2012
The former chief lobbyist for James Murdoch was the inquiry's most skilled assassin. Despite over-egging his closeness to the heart of the UK Government, Michel nevertheless shredded the reputation of the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt.
1 March 2012
The former Met assistant commissioner was not the best advert for the police-press relationship. Asked if his relationship with the press ran the risk of creating a perception with went beyond appropriate, he replied, "With hindsight, I see the point."
27 February 2012
Months of carefully choreographed silence by Scotland Yard about how their new hacking and corruption inquiries were progressing ended when the deputy assistant commissioner gave evidence.