The Daily Mail came out fighting after Hugh Grant’s allegations against the paper, raising the question of whether newspapers might still be able to intimidate witnesses in print, thereby making them moderate their evidence out of fear of the repercussions.
Lord Leveson was told that the Mail had commented on the actor’s testimony on its own pages and in a press release.
Their statement ended with the words: ‘Mr Grant’s allegations are mendacious smears driven by his hatred of the media.’
Was that going too far?
One lawyer argued that witnesses should not be ‘intimidated like this’.
David Sherborne, counsel for Grant and other victims, said the term ‘mendacious smear’ meant the Mail was accusing Grant of lying under oath, a criminal offence.
The judge accepted that claims made in the inquiry could be challenged on a factual basis - but added it was ‘necessary’ that language like this should not be used.
He added: ‘I’m extremely concerned about ensuring the arguments relating to this inquiry are conducted here, not elsewhere. I would be unhappy if it was felt the best form of defence was always attack.’
Fear of the press was also raised by Steve Coogan, the actor and comedian, when he gave evidence.
He told the inquiry: ‘If you criticise the press, then they will come after you.’
Counsel asked him: ‘Do you feel fear today?’
Coogan: ‘A little.’
He went on: ‘Many other celebrities have told me they’d like to come here but they fear what will happen. My closet is empty of skeletons - due to the press.
‘When I appeared on Newsnight and mentioned Paul Dacre (Mail editor), the next day they were raking up old tabloid stories and it went round the office, ‘If you want to write any dirt on Steve Coogan, be my guest.’ Amanda Platell and Melanie Phillips duly obliged.’
Similar anxieties were expressed by Sheryl Gascoigne, the ex-wife of former England footballer Paul.
She told the inquiry that it had not been easy for her to come to the inquiry and give evidence, explaining: 'I'm scared of the repercussions. I'm scared of the repercussions on my family.'
Lord Leveson told her that he had already spoken about some of the concerns she was raising.
Witness Mark Thomson, a celebrity lawyer, said denigration of those who stood up to the press was 'invariable'. He referred to, amongst others, Naomi Campbell, Sienna Miller and Max Mosley.
He added: 'All have been chastised for complaining, a tactic to undermine their vindication by trashing the complainant. My suspicion is that if they go to law 'we'll give them a good trashing and others will think long and hard about doing it in future'. He said that although it was more common in the tabloids, he had also seen the tactic used in the broadsheets including The Independent, The Times and, to a lesser extent, The Guardian.
In the witness box Max Mosley said that after he decided to challenge the News of the World over their story on his sexual activities, he felt 'threatened' by a second story they published.
He said: 'As soon as I challenged the original story, the entire resources of News International were deployed to destroy me.'
Another allegation was made by J. K. Rowling, the children's author, after a photo of her child was published without her permission shortly after she asked for her address to be withheld. She said: 'If you lock horns, make a complaint, then you can expect some form of retribution fairly quickly. To pick on my child, who's put in the paper so quickly after I'd asked them not to print my address, I thought that was spiteful.'