Background & history

The trigger for the Inquiry was the revelation that News of the World reporters hacked the phone of 13-year-old murder victim Milly Dowler, and that case was examined closely in evidence. Phone hacking began in the late 1990s and the first arrest was made in 2007, but the matter was addressed mainly in general terms because criminal proceedings were under way.

Other events of the early 21st century to be examined included the McCann case and the data-theft operations referred to under the general heading of Operation Motorman. The Inquiry considered the actions of journalists and editors, and also of the Press Complaints Commission, the Information Commissioner, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

The Inquiry also examined the history of journalism regulation going back to the 1940s, including the record of the PCC and of the Calcutt inquiries of 1990-1994. In its scrutiny of relations between politicians and the press, evidence was heard from four prime ministers and there was also discussion of Rupert Murdoch’s relations with Margaret Thatcher in the 1990s.

History of regulation

Press regulation in the UK began in 1953 with the founding of the General Council of the Press, which became the Press Council in 1962 and was replaced by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) in 1990. Discussions of the history of regulation tended to focus on the reasons for failures, and often referred to the previous inquiries into the press: three Royal Commissions on the Press (in 1947-49, 1961-62 and 1974), the Younger Committee on Privacy (1972) and the Calcutt Committee (1989-90).

The Report reviewed the history here:

Leveson Report

And here:

Leveson Report

The Leveson Inquiry took it as a premise that these bodies had failed to uphold standards and protect the public from harm, and its Terms of Reference required the judge to make Recommendations for a new regulatory regime.

The Inquiry naturally looked particularly closely at the history of the PCC, with many witnesses and submissions commenting on its record, including almost all of its previous chairs. Key witnesses and submitters included Lord Hunt, Lord Black, Baroness Buscombe, Stephen Abell, Martin Moore, James Curran, Sir Louis Blom-Cooper and Paul Dacre.

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Operation Motorman

This 2003 initiative by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) lay at the heart of the Inquiry's consideration of the issue of the illegal and unethical acquisition of personal data by and on behalf of journalists. It involved the arrest of private investigator Steve Whittamore and the seizure of documentation.

Whittamore logged more than 13,000 requests for information from journalists at almost every national paper, and much of this information ‐ vehicle owner details, ex-directory and mobile phone numbers, phone records and criminal record data - could not be acquired legally. The ICO issued two public reports on the matter, What Price Privacy? and What Price Privacy Now?, but no charges were brought against journalists.

The Inquiry did not identify the journalists named in the Motorman files, but a number of editors, journalists and other newspaper staff were questioned about data theft and the use of private investigators. They included Peter Hill, Paul Dacre, John Witherow, Peter Wright, Rebekah Brooks and Richard Wallace. ICO personnel, including former Commissioner Richard Thomas and former investigator Alex Owens, were examined on the failure to prosecute journalists.

The Inquiry made 19 Recommendations in relation to the press and data protection.

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McCann case

The disappearance of three-year-old Madeleine McCann in Portugal in 2007 prompted intense media coverage over nearly a year, and some dozen newspapers eventually admitted and paid damages for hundreds of libels either against the parents, Gerry and Kate McCann, or against others including, notably, a British citizen living in Portugal, Robert Murat.

The Inquiry heard from the McCanns about their experience and also questioned editors including Peter Hill, Paul Dacre, Colin Myler, Dawn Neesom and Richard Wallace, as well as reporters such as David Pilditch. It examined the competitive pressures on journalists and editors to produce stories where public demand for information is high, and it looked at the question of newsroom fact-checking.

Close attention was also paid to the absence of public engagement in the affair by the Press Complaints Commission, and Tim Toulmin and Christopher Meyer gave evidence on this.

The Report reviewed the case here.

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Press abuses to 2011

While phone hacking provided the immediate trigger for the Leveson Inquiry, wider problems in press standards provided its background. Coverage of the Madeleine McCann case in 2007-08 and of the arrest of Christopher Jefferies in early 2011, neither of which involved phone hacking, had given rise to public concern. Widespread data-theft came to light through the Operation Motorman affair, and more generally books such as 'Flat Earth News', by Nick Davies, and 'Fake Sheikhs and Royal Trappings', by Peter Burden, had alerted the public to press abuses.

Many submissions and witness testimonies aimed to demonstrate the range and impact of unethical and illegal conduct and many proprietors, editors and journalists gave their views on these too. The Inquiry also heard evidence on the coverage of the Hillsborough disaster of 1989.

See also: 'Phone hacking'; 'McCann case'; 'Operation Motorman'; 'Intrusion'; 'Bribery'; 'Data theft and data protection'; 'Harassment'; 'Defamation'.

See also evidence and submissions by MediaWise, JK Rowling, Margaret and James Watson, Paul McMullen, David Pilditch, Kelvin McKenzie and Giles Crown.

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Setting up the inquiry

The Inquiry under Lord Justice Leveson was announced in the House of Commons on 13 July 2011 by the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, following consultations with the Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and the Leader of the Opposition, the Labour party's Ed Miliband. A few days later the Terms of Reference were published, and on 28 July Lord Justice Leveson was formally appointed chair by letter from the Home Office and the Department for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport.

It was meant to be a two-stage inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005. Part one would inquire into 'the culture, practices and ethics of the press' and make Recommendations for a new regulatory system. Part two (or 'Leveson 2') would look closely at criminal conduct and would convene only when relevant criminal proceedings were complete (until then, these matters would be sub judice and therefore could not be examined in a public inquiry forum).

The inquiry issued a call for written submissions in August 2011 and hosted a series of public seminars

For David Cameron's speech of 13 July 2011, see: /levesonarticle/1/Leveson%20Report%200780_i#page=18

Other key documents include: Terms of Reference; Chapter 2, Part A of the Report, entitled 'The Approach'.

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Inquiry people & procedures

Aged 62 in 2011, Sir Brian Leveson was, as a Lord Justice of Appeal, a senior judge. Born in Liverpool and educated at Oxford, he became a barrister working mainly in criminal law, notably prosecuting the murderer Rosemary West in 1995. He became a High Court judge in 2000.

The chair was assisted by six expert 'assessors', who ultimately gave unanimous backing to his Recommendations. They were: Sir David Bell (a former journalist and manager at the Financial Times), Shami Chakrabarti (then director of the human-rights organisation Liberty), Lord Currie (former chair of Ofcom), Elinor Goodman (former Channel 4 journalist), George Jones (former Daily Telegraph journalist), and Sir Paul Scott-Lee (a former police Chief Constable).

Three barristers, Robert Jay QC, David Barr and Carine Patry-Hoskins, asked the questions in the public evidence sessions on behalf of the Inquiry. Also legally represented at the Inquiry ' meaning that one or more barristers were present to ask questions on their behalf ' were 'Core Participant Victims', a number of newspaper groups, some police forces and some others.

Many people made written submissions to the Inquiry. Some of these, and some others, were invited to give evidence in person. They were each also required to make a written statement answering questions from the Inquiry. Giving evidence they were questioned first by barristers for the Inquiry and then, sometimes, by barristers for other represented groups.

The Inquiry's public hearings had four phases, referred to as modules: 1, The Press and the Public; 2, The Press and the Police; 3, The Press and the Politicians; 4, Potential Regulatory Solutions.

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Understand all the key topics and the context behind the Inquiry's findings

Journalism & society
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Future of journalism
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Background & history
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Subsequent developments
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Ethics & abuses
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