Leveson denies "hidden agenda"

Lord Justice Leveson has stressed there is no “hidden agenda” to his Inquiry into press standards.

In opening remarks to this morning’s session — which were posted on the Inquiry website — Leveson said he understood “only too well” journalists’ anxieties over the “dangers of a knee-jerk response” to the phone-hacking scandal that erupted last summer, but added that “no recommendations have been formulated or written; no conclusions have yet been reached.”

Leveson was making his first public response to a Mail on Sunday story on 17 June that alleged the judge had threatened to quit over comments education secretary Michael Gove had made to Parliament in February, in which he suggested a “chilling effect” was emanating from the Inquiry.

Leveson said he did contact cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood following Gove’s comments to clarify whether the government still supported the Inquiry.

“I wanted to find out whether Mr Gove was speaking for the government, whether it was thought that the very existence of the Inquiry was having a chilling effect on healthy, vibrant journalism and whether the government had effectively reached a settled view on any potential recommendations,” Leveson said. “Put shortly, I was concerned about the perception that the Inquiry was being undermined while it was taking place.”

The judge said it was “absolutely correct” for the press to hold the Inquiry and himself to account, but added it was “at least arguable that what has happened is an example of an approach which seeks to convert any attempt to question the conduct of the press as an attack on free speech.”

Simon Walters, the article’s co-author, appeared at the Inquiry this afternoon. He was not quizzed over the story, having been called to give evidence before it was printed.

The Inquiry continues tomorrow.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson