Leveson Inquiry: Fun among the famous faces

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THE subject matter was as serious as it gets, but there was certainly plenty of levity at the Leveson Inquiry.

No-one was pelted with custard pie like media tycoon Rupert Murdoch at his Commons select committee appearance, but there were plenty of people left with egg on their face by the evidence that emerged.

From the first day, Court 73 of the Royal Courts of Justice was packed for evidence from some of the country’s most high profile faces.

At the front was Lord Justice Leveson, who emerged each morning from behind his bench to take the helm of the day’s activities. In front of him sat his trusty panel members furiously note-taking, ready to help him compile months of evidence into a report.

Counsel to the inquiry, led by Robert Jay QC - unmissable in his yellow-framed glasses - juggled reams of paperwork as they took on the main questioning of politicians, editors, celebrities and distraught parents.

A sea of suits filled the courtroom - lawyers representing many of the major publishers, ready to jump to their defence in the event of a slur on their newspaper group’s name.

Everyone’s attention focused on the solitary desk where witnesses one by one nervously tried to navigate their way through “bundles”, files and references, all too aware of the eyes on them.

The public gallery was full each day, packed with journalists, supporters of those in the witness box, along with the downright curious. With media interest at a high, a special annex in the courtyard of the Royal Courts of Justice allowed even more space for the press to report on proceedings.

There were plenty of serious stories highlighting problems in the British media, but also moments of levity during the inquiry.

During the hours of evidence, it wasn’t just tales of the inner workings of the press, police and politicians that emerged, but a generous helping of anecdotes that brought a smile to the audience and an occasional red face to the protagonists.

From text message chats, “country suppers” and girly “slumber parties” at Chequers, to “roaring” prime ministers and politicians lurking behind trees, the inquiry lifted the lid on the interplay between press and politicians,

And behind the quips and jokes, the hearings also laid bare the rivalry between media outlets. Express Newspapers owner Richard Desmond made no secret of his dislike of rival Paul Dacre, referring to the Daily Mail as the “Daily Malicious” in a deliberate slip.

And a hushed silence descended over the courtroom in a brief pause as Mr Jay accidentally addressed Mr Desmond as Mr Dacre at one point.

The barrister himself was a lynchpin in the proceedings. Bamboozling people with references to “supplementary bundles” and files categorised with endless numbers, he may not have been a rottweiler tearing witnesses to shreds but was certainly a dog with a bone, dissecting each communication and email with forensic accuracy and refusing to let go until his questions were answered.

His slight smile as he grilled some of the country’s most important names betrayed his pleasure in the task.

Colleague Carine Patry Hoskins carved herself a niche in the proceedings, attracting the spotlight when her close attention to Hugh Grant’s evidence quickly became a talking point.

Her intense concentration on the star earned thousands of references on Twitter as she was dubbed the mysterious “woman on the left”.

And amid the humour came the drama that inevitably accompanies such controversial issues.

There were several pauses to proceedings. Kelvin MacKenzie’s evidence was held up when a man shouted: “Ask him about Michael Stone”, while during Tony Blair’s evidence, a protester burst in from behind its chairman - after apparently making his way into a private corridor - to declare he “should be arrested for war crimes”.

And at the centre of the sometimes chaotic courtroom sat Lord Justice Leveson - himself no mere bystander to scenes playing out around him.

Often offering his own asides, he too did not fail to see the funny side of some parts of the evidence, referring at one point to Heat Magazine as: “a very different journal to my normal, but fair enough”.

While the serious subject of the inquiry is not lost on anyone who has heard some of the stories to emerge, the humorous moments could not have failed to pass people by.

Online spoofs have already started, including Leveson: The Musical, while the new series of political satire The Thick of It is thought by some to be based on the inquiry.

And it is no surprise as, with such rich material, the colourful world of the Leveson Inquiry proved to be the gift that just keeps on giving.