News International went on the attack yesterday at the Leveson Inquiry, questioning claims up to 28 News of the World journalists were implicated in lawbreaking and denying that the practice had spread to The Sun.
Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper group challenged new evidence presented by Scotland Yard and questioned the claim The Sun had been involved in phone hacking. Despite issuing an "unreserved apology" to victims whose phones were hacked by the News of the World, the company's lawyer claimed new figures given to the inquiry by the Metropolitan Police "did not add up". NI's new position appears to be that only a small number of rogues were responsible.
On the opening day at the Royal Courts of Justice, Robert Jay QC, counsel for the inquiry, had said new examinations of the notebooks belonging to Glenn Mulcaire, the jailed private eye regularly commissioned by the NOTW, pointed to 28 journalists at the newspaper group, in addition to its jailed royal editor Clive Goodman, being identified in the notes.
However, the counsel for NI, Rhodri Davies QC, told day two of the inquiry that he wanted the figure of 28 "rechecked" and added: "It is our understanding it certainly does not add up."
The inquiry has been told that four journalists, A, B, C and D, accounted for 2,143 of the commissions noted down by Mulcaire. With Mulcaire commissioned 2,266 times, there was a difference of 123 between the two figures.
Another 21 names in Mulcaire's books could not be properly read. Mr Davies said there had been "some surprise on our side" that the rest of the connections made to Mulcaire meant 28 other NI journalists were being connected to the criminal action of phone hacking.
The challenge to the evidence presented to the inquiry by the specialist detectives from Operation Weeting, is the first split in the array of lawyers representing media companies, the police, and victims of phone hacking.
The opening statement from NI's counsel had been expected to be lengthy and contritional. Mr Davies repeated previous apologies issued by NI and stated that phone hacking was "wrong, it was shameful; it should never have happened". He immediately followed with an open confession that the "rogue reporter" notion had been dismissed.
The evidence presented yesterday suggests that News International will not be a submissive player in the inquiry. The opening day revelation that The Sun may also have been involved was also challenged.
Allegations that The Sun hacked into his personal data is part of the legal action against the paper currently being taken by the actor Jude Law.
Mr Davies said he wanted discussions with the inquiry's counsel to challenge the assumption The Sun was engaged in criminal activities. He also challenged new evidence of the timeframe for the NOTW's "dark arts" activities.
On day one it was suggested that despite the jailing of Mulcaire and Goodman in 2007, phone hacking may have continued up until 2009.
Although Mr Davies offered no new evidence to challenge this, he said if it continued at all, its scale was nothing like the old regime. He told the hearing: "I am not going to give any guarantees there was no phone hacking by or on behalf of News of the World after 2007. Nonetheless, it does look as though lessons were learned when Mr Goodman and Mr Mulcaire went to jail. If phone hacking continued, it was not, as Mr Jay suggested, the "thriving cottage industry" that existed before."