Judge-led inquiry into UK’s media ethics begins

LONDON (AP) ? A British judge is opening a high-level public inquiry Monday into the behavior of the nation’s press, an investigation prompted by revelations and allegations of widespread criminal behavior at a mass-market tabloid.

Justice Brian Leveson’s hearings will first look at the culture, practices and ethics of the press, and will defer any inquiry into alleged criminal activity until the police have finished their investigations of alleged phone hacking, computer hacking and bribery of police officers.

Monday’s session was expected to be devoted to opening statements by the inquiry’s chief counsel, Robert Jay, and lawyers representing “core participants” including newspaper owners and London’s Metropolitan Police. Witnesses, including hacking victims, are not expected to be called until next week.

Prime Minister David Cameron called for the inquiry following the phone hacking scandal that led to the closure of the News of the World, the Sunday tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News International.

Police reportedly have identified 6,000 potential victims of phone hacking by employees of News of the World. So far, police have made 16 arrests in their investigation of phone hacking, including Cameron’s former chief spokesman Andy Coulson, a former News of the World editor, and Rebekah Brooks, former chief executive of News International.

Among others who will be legally represented at the inquiry are the parents of Milly Dowler, a 13-year-old girl who was murdered in 2002. News International has agreed to pay the family 2 million pounds ($3.2 million) because the girl’s phone was hacked and some messages were deleted while police were still searching for her.

The Dowler case was the first to arouse broad public anger, though several celebrities had earlier won settlements from News International.

Among the people who will be legally represented at the hearings are “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, singer Charlotte Church, actor Hugh Grant and actress Sienna Miller.