The Leveson Inquiry proper began yesterday, 14 November 2011 with an opening statement from Lord Justice Leveson and from Counsel to the Inquiry, Robert Jay QC.   The hearing can be watched online.  Lord Justice Leveson repeated that he considered “freedom of expression and freedom of the press to be fundamental to our democracy“. But he went on to say that this freedom “must be exercised with the rights of others in mind.”  He said that the press provided

an essential check on all aspects of public life.  That is why any failure within the media affects all of us. At the heart of this inquiry therefore may be one simple question – who guards the guardians?

He mentioned that concerns had been raised that the press might target those who spoke out against it during the inquiry.  He made it clear that “monitoring will take place of press coverage over the months to come” and went on to suggest that

“if it appears that those concerns are made out, without objective justification, it might be appropriate to draw the conclusion that these vital rights are being abused, which itself would provide evidence of culture, practice and ethics which could be relevant to my ultimate recommendations.

Counsel to the Inquiry, Robert Jay QC, made a wide ranging opening statement.  In the course of this he mentioned two competing narratives which had already emerged during the seminars:

“According to the first of these … the Press is generally speaking a force for great public good. It educates, it entertains, it holds the powerful, including government to account. Although the Press may be working under considerable commercial pressure, the importance of this should not be over-stated. These pressures have always existed in one form or another. Most journalists are decent people, and the far greater pressure is to produce the best possible story to the highest personal and professional standards  … The contrary narrative works along these lines. The Press in general and the tabloid Press in particular ruthlessly exploit unscrupulous methods in pursuit of the story which will boost the circulation figures of their particular title. Very often, ‘the story’ is pre-ordained by the narrative the journalist instinctively knows the editor will wish to put out, and the facts are therefore tailored to meet that narrative”.

Mr Jay went on to discuss some examples of good, public interest, journalism and, on the other side, some of the facts relating to “Operation Motorman” and the activities of Glenn Mulcaire.  The latter has received considerable publicity.   In relation to Mr Mulcaire’s notebooks he said this

The Mulcaire notebooks run to some 11,000 pages. They evidence some 2,266 taskings, although some of these relate to the same individual. On occasion, the true target will not be the person identified in the notebook; often, the hacking was directed at associates of the true target with a view to finding information about the true target.

Overall, there are about 28 legible corner names. I have already given ciphers for some of these in relation to the counts on the original indictment.

Aside from Goodman, the most prolific users of Mulcaire’s services were corner names A, B, C and D.

A appears on 1,453 occasions, B 303, C 252 and D 135. This accounts for 2,143 taskings. The other corner names appear infrequently, often in single figures, as the basic arithmetic suggests.

He gave a number of other figures: 5,795  potentially identifiable persons, 318 outgoing calls to unique voicemail numbers from a variety of different phones; 690 audio recordings; 586 voicemail messages, that were apparently intercepted; 64 identifiable individuals who were intended recipients of these voicemail messages; 38 recordings of Mulcaire blaggings.    He mentioned “Sun” and “Mirror” corner names in the notebooks.  He said that 28 News Group staff were named in the notes.

There was an interesting comment on the duration of phone hacking

According to the Met Police, NI’s hacking operation had certainly begun by 2002, Milly Dowler being the first known victim. The Police believe that it continued until at least 2009.

In the next section of his address Counsel for the Inquiry dealt with the various systems of regulation for the press which presently exist – including the criminal and civil law and the PCC.  At the end, drawing the themes together he discussed possible recommendations

It remains to be seen whether the Inquiry will be attracted by a solution which entails what might be called ‘enhanced self regulation’ without any legislative changes, or whether the way forward will be statute-based regulation in some shape or form, whether standing in its own right or as part of a co-regulatory regime.

This Opening Statement is an extremely useful overview of the issues which the Inquiry faces and repays reading in full.

The Inquiry will, tomorrow, hear opening statements from various core participants.

There are interesting posts on the opening of Leveson from Obiter J “The Leveson Inquiry Gets Underway” and the UK Human Rights blog “Leveson goes live”