Lord Justice Leveson is taking a well earned Christmas break.  His Inquiry completed its hearing of evidence for 2011 on 19, 20 and 21 December.  The highlight of the week was an unconvincing performance from former newspaper editor Piers Morgan whose recollection of specifics was remarkably limited.  He sought to explain away his various statements about phone hacking in the past – in books and interviews – on the basis that he was simply repeating rumours and had no personal knowledge.  It will be interesting to see what Lord Justice Leveson makes of his evidence in due course.

On the morning of  Monday 19 December 2011 the Inquiry heard from Stewart Hoare – brother of the now deceased “NoW” journalist Sean Hoare.  He told the Inquiry that his brother had told him that phone hacking was endemic at News International – having begun and the “Sun” and then transferred to the “NoW”.  The Inquiry also heard evidence from Independent Deputy Editor James Hanning – this largely concerned his discussions with Sean Hoare.

During the afternoon of Monday 19 December 2011 the Inquiry heard from Matt Driscoll a former “NoW” journalist who brought successful proceedings against the newspaper for unfair dismissal as a resulting of bullying.

On the morning of Tuesday 20 December 2011 the Court heard further evidence from Julian Pike.  It then heard from Stephen Turner, the General Secretary of the British Association of Journalists – who dealt with general matters and also with the case of Mr Driscoll. The final witness of the morning was Sharon Marshall – the author of a book called Tabloid Girl apparently concerning her time as a journalist at the “People” and “NoW”.  However, in evidence she said that “no reliance” could be placed upon those stories “as providing a statement or an indication of general practice in the journalism industry“. This appears to be slightly at odds with the contemporaneous reporting about the contents of the book (see, for example, this discussion in the “Guardian” in May 2010).

The afternoon of Tuesday 20 December 2011 began with the evidence of Matthew Bell and Christopher Johnson of the National Association of Press Agencies – which made a written submission to the Inquiry.

The highlight of the afternoon – and indeed the week – was the evidence of former “NoW” and “Daily Mirror” editor Piers Morgan, on videolink from Los Angeles.  He was unable to recall how many times he had used the services of “Benji the Binman” to obtain documents and appeared to have no knowledge at all about the dealings between Steve Whittamore and Mirror journalists.  When asked about phone hacking was taking place at the Mirror before 2004 his response was “I don’t believe so” – when pressed he said “To the best of my recollection, I do not believe so“.

He insisted that the papers he edited acted within the law but was unable to recall specifics.  He was asked about having heard a tape of a message left by Sir Paul McCartney for Heather Mills – he said he did not think it was unethical but said he could say no because to do so would identify his source.  Ms Mills subsequently denied playing Mr Morgan such a message.  He denied that he had listened to Ulrika Jonsson’s voicemail.

Mr Morgan’s own summary of his evidence was

“it becomes almost like a rock having an album brought out from his back catalogue all his worst-ever hits, and I do feel still very of a lot of the very good stuff that both the Mirror the News of the World did in my tenure as editor“.

On Wednesday 21 December 2011, the Inquiry heard evidence from James Hipwell a journalist who was sacked from the “Daily Mirror” for insider share dealing in 2000.  He said that he witnessed journalists

carrying out repeated privacy infringements, using what has now become a wellknown technique to hack in to the voicemail systems of celebrities, their friends, publicists, and public relations executives. The openness and frequency of their hacking activities gave me the impression that hacking was considered a bog-standard journalistic tool for gathering information“.

The Inquiry then heard from David Pilditch, a General News Reporter at the “Daily Express”, concerning the circumstances concerning the publication of the stories concerning the McCanns.

During the afternoon of Wednesday 21 December 2011 the Inquiry heard from Padraic Flanagan a Senior News Reporter at the “Daily Express”, again concerning the circumstances concerning the publication of the stories concerning the McCanns.

Lord Justice Leveson has invited any further applications for Core Participant status in relation to Module 2 of the Inquiry to be submitted by 13 January 2012.  The hearings will resume on Monday 9 January 2012 and module 1 (“The relationship between the press and the public and looks at phone-hacking and other potentially illegal behaviour”) will conclude on 9 February 2012.