The first day of evidence in the Leveson Inquiry was essential viewing for media lawyers and journalists. It can now be seen online in morning and afternoon sessions. Four witnesses were heard and questions were put only by two of the Counsel to the Inquiry, Robert Jay QC and Carine Patry Hoskins – some formulated by the other core participant representatives.
This is an understandable (in terms of time saving) but curious procedure – leaving a number of notable advocates as part of the “crowd scene” in the background. It also gives the (incorrect) impression that Counsel for the Inquiry are “putting a case” and taking a paritcular line. The Inquiry should consider permitting short cross-examination by Counsel for the core participants where factually contentious issues arise.
The first evidence came – appropriately – from Bob and Sally Dowler. They described the moment when they discovered that their daughter Milly’s voicemail box was no longer full and that, as a result there was a possibility that she had accessed her voicemail and was still alive.
Shortly after they gave evidence a remarkable statement was issued by Glenn Mulcaire solicitors in which, for the first time, he stated that he “did not delete messages” from Milly Dowler’s voicemail. It is noteworthy that his statement does not contain any denial of accessing the voicemail. The Dowler’s solicitor, Mark Lewis commented that
“Whether he listened to the messages and wiped messages out or whether somebody else was wiping messages out to create more room for more messages to be left, is one of the points the police will undoubtedly have to investigate and explore.“
The next witness was journalist Joan Smith – a victim of phone hacking – whose evidence is of particular interest in view of her unchallengeable commitment to freedom of expression over many years. She commented that
“The tabloid press seems to live in a 1950s world where everyone is supposed to get married and stay married and anything that happens outside that is a story“
Then there was Graham Shear – a solicitor who has acted for many celebrities and sports people and another phone hacking victim. He dealt with his personal experience of being followed and observed by journalists as well as the experiences of his clients over many years.
Finally, the undoubted star of the first day’s production, Hugh Grant. Unfortunately his powerful self-written witness statements, were not read out to the Inquiry but rather, he was subject to mildly hostile questioning from Mr Jay – much of it, apparently deriving from issues raised by Associated Newspapers.
Mr Grant’s main statement and his supplemental statement are now available on the Inquiry website. It was an impressive and compelling session. As Michael White put it on the front page of today’s “Guardian” Hugh Grant “revealed himself to be thoughtful, articulate, brave in an unheroic way and – at least twice – very kind“.
The headline from his evidence was the suggestion that his phone had been hacked by the “Mail on Sunday”. The “Mail” subsequently “utterly refuted” his allegations – claiming that the story in question had come from a “source close to Jemima Khan” – an explanation which she later refuted on Twitter.
Today the Inquiry is hearing evidence from Steve Coogan, Mary-Ellen Field, Garry Flitcroft and Magaret Watson.