Leveson Inquiry: Did David Sherborne and Carine Patry Hoskins really kiss goodbye to the freedom of the press?

The revelation that two lawyers on either side of the Leveson inquiry are having an affair has been a gift to the report's critics. James Cusick asks if they're right to be so hacked off

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The Independent Online

A tyrant looking to dispose of his enemies by stirring up war is familiar to those who study the literature of ancient Greece. The barrister David Sherborne read classics at Oxford, but last weekend he found it was a small jump from Plato to the Leveson Inquiry – and that cold revenge was in fact a familiar tabloid tale.

Sherborne, 44, is one of England's leading media lawyers. He represented a lengthy list of victims of press excess at Leveson. For those of us who sat through months and months of the unfolding legal drama in the small inquiry room at the High Court, you didn't need a forensics degree to notice that Sherborne had made a high-profile enemy.

Paul Dacre is the Daily Mail's enforcer-in-chief, an updated Ares wrapped in newsprint and Conservative bloodlust. He regarded the very idea of the Downing Street-ordered inquiry into press ethics and behaviour as beneath his Fleet Street authority.

However, since Saturday the revenge of the Daily Mail has looked like this: reporters and photographers are outside the substantial London home of Sherborne. His family and friends have been telephoned and door-stepped.

In the pages of the Mail, Telegraph, Sun and elsewhere, the entire content and conclusions of the weighty Leveson Report have been questioned. Some Tory backbenchers are demanding that Lord Justice Leveson, who investigated the press, now investigates Sherborne.

What lies behind the outrage is the revelation that Sherborne and Carine Patry Hoskins, 40, the junior counsel of the Leveson legal team, started a relationship which is still continuing – allegedly while the report was in the process of being written.

Worse, in the Mail's purple prose, the "twice-married Sherborne", and the "mother-of-two Miss Patry Hoskins", jetted off to the Greek island of Santorini only "days after the public hearings concluded and months before the inquiry ended."

Sherborne's role in the inquiry put him in Dacre's firing line, and the best fireworks at the inquiry were on the few days that the two men crossed swords. Sherborne ripped into him over questionable remarks the Mail published against his client, Hugh Grant.

His mannered accusations that the Mail might have indulged in a bit of hacking themselves left Dacre flustered enough to mistakenly say his paper "had been accused of f***ing – of hacking phones". He left furious.

The Tory MP Rob Wilson wants the judge to examine the implications of the relationship and has now written to the Bar Standards Board to demand a probe into how the relationship may have affected the roles the two lawyers had at the £6m inquiry.

The central allegation – that requires debunking – is that a relationship between two barristers, one twice divorced (Sherborne), the other in the process of a messy divorce before Leveson kicked off (Patry Hoskins), somehow influenced the thoughts and conclusions of an Appeal Court judge while he was writing his report into Britain's future press freedom.

The Santorini trip took place in August, just after the formal hearings finished. Although the report was published in November, the judge had been writing key conclusions throughout the months of the inquiry. Ms Patry Hoskins, according to close associates, only learned of the report's findings the day before they were published.

Sherborne's input to the inquiry was high profile. His opening speech defined the high emotional content of the first part of the inquiry that examined the relationship between the press and public. But by the final section, between April and June last year, Sherborne was barely in attendance.

Another Tory MP, Douglas Carswell, wants the current press regulation plans to be scrapped because of the potential conflicts of interests that the relationship may have thrown up. Mr Carswell may not have understood the role a junior counsel had. Robert Jay QC led the questioning of the key players who gave evidence. Ms Patry Hoskins and David Barr gave Jay a break by taking over the questioning of others. Patry Hoskins had a defined job. Her input into the final report was limited to gathering factual material. Its conclusions, as Sir Brian repeated again and again, were his alone.

Although Mr Wilson has now written to the Bar Standards Board, he too clearly regards Sherborne and the inquiry's counsel as holding adversarial roles at the inquiry. They did not.

Mr Jay and his junior did not examine or cross-examine witnesses. They questioned them, based on their written testimony. Everyone who appeared knew all the questions they were going to be asked. How? The inquiry's counsel met everyone personally before they came to the High Court. Public questioning was designed to be easy, not gruelling. The inquiry's legal structure was also to gather information, not blame. That is the job the criminal courts will take up later this year.

Friends and associates of the two barristers describe the Santorini trip as "naïve in retrospect". If Sir Brian and Jay had been told, accusations over the weekend of broken rules would now sound hollow. But those who disapproved of the whole Leveson exercise claim their fears have been justified.