Phone hacking inquiry to begin next month

Richard Hall@_richardhall
Sunday 30 October 2011 23:49

Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry into phone hacking and media standards and ethics will begin hearing evidence from witnesses next month, it was announced yesterday.

Victims of phone hacking, including the parents of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler and the actress Sienna Miller, will be the first called at the High Court in London.

The probe, announced by David Cameron in July after revelations of hacking at the News of the World, will start on 14 November, with the first witnesses giving evidence from 21 November. It should take around three months to hear from them all.

Ms Miller and the Dowlers are among 46 alleged victims granted "core participant" status – allowing them the right to give evidence, cross-examine witnesses and have access to all documents produced by the inquiry.

Hugh Grant, JK Rowling, Labour MP Chris Bryant and Lord Prescott are also among the core participants.

The first part of the inquiry will look at the culture, ethics and practices of the press and its relationship with the police and politicians.

The announcement came as the Metropolitan Police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) urged Lord Leveson to ensure that the inquiry does not prejudice a separate criminal probe running alongside it.

In submissions to him, the Met said: "It is inevitable that this inquiry will touch on areas which may have a close connection with the criminal investigation and thus an impact on any subsequent trial, were one to take place." It added: "We are understandably anxious that nothing should be said or done which might jeopardise either the investigation or trial."

The Met and CPS said in submissions that investigations into hacking had not been completed and there were a number of suspects over whom charging decisions had not yet been made.

Sitting at the High Court, Lord Leveson ruled yesterday that a hearing would take place next week to decide how to handle links between the inquiry and the police investigation.

He stressed that his concern was about press culture and ethics and asked counsel whether "the picture at the News of the World can't be painted in a way that doesn't require over-descent into detail". The judge also said he had received invitations to visit newspapers and was prepared "on a low-key basis, to accede to them".

He added: "I would arrange a visit, low-key, with one man on the team and I don't want presentations. I'm happy to see how it works.

"My job is to see what's going on in the business and whether the controls in place, such as the PCC [Press Complaints Commission], are sufficient."