Despite the repetition of denials, an accumulation of horror stories of tabloid practices has emerged

"Oh no I didn’t!" "Oh yes you did!" As good as any Christmas pantomime, the Leveson inquiry into tabloid morals may well have been intended, as its critics allege, to distract attention from the prime minister’s own ill-advised links with Rupert Murdoch.

But nevertheless, in the first month of what is due to be a long London run in courtroom 73 at the Royal Courts of Justice, Leveson mostly succeeded in laying on a gripping show. There have been 63 live performers so far.

This is despite the absence for legal reasons of key testimony, including from the News of the World executive responsible for hacking the phone of the murdered Milly Dowler.

Piers Morgan, one-time Mirror editor, proved one of the more theatrical of the oh-no-I-didn’t brigade. He gave curt and sulky answers, and tried to blame Sir Paul McCartney’s ex-wife for a voicemail tape he himself once boasted of hearing. Morgan also lashed out at the Guardian’s reporters who unearthed the present scandal, calling them the sanctimonious “bishops of Fleet Street”.

His fellow editor Colin Myler, who presided over four years of cover-up at the late News of the World, did at least have the grace to blurt out “I apologise” when accused of deceiving the Press Complaints Commission.

But the overall picture Myler sought to paint was of a saintly process of reform, worthy of any bishop, in which the sinners had long been swept away, and he no longer tolerated misbehaviour.

When he made this claim, “Oh yes you did!” might have been heard at the back of the hall. For he was at once contradicted by a large ex-policeman, Derek Webb.

Nicknamed, rather improbably, the Silent Shadow, Webb’s job at the News of the World was to follow people about, the hearing was told. When it became too hot to employ him as a private detective, he explained on oath, he was simply told to get a National Union of Journalists card. This happened under the supposedly reforming editorship of Myler.

The inquiry’s lawyers asked Webb whether anything changed at all at the NoW after the new broom succeeded the disgraced former editor Andy Coulson. Webb replied succinctly: “Nothing.” …

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