UK phone-hack probe begins

London: The public inquiry into Britain`s phone-hacking controversy opened on Thursday, with Judge Brian Leveson saying that the remit of the investigation was wider than just the recent scandal and he plans to use his powers to demand evidence from witnesses "as soon as possible".

Leveson today met his inquiry team for the time today. British Prime Minister David Cameron had ordered the inquiry in the wake of allegations of wrongdoing at the now-shuttered `News of the World` tabloid owned by media titan Rupert Murdoch. The probe committee has 12 months to report back to government.

The six-member team includes Indian-origin Shami Chakrabarti, director of campaign group Liberty, George Jones, former Daily Telegraph political editor, David Bell, former chairman of the Financial Times, Elinor Goodman, former Channel 4 political editor, Lord David Currie, former chairman of regulator Ofcom and Sir Paul Scott-Lee, former West Midlands chief constable.

In a statement, Lord Leveson said: "It may be tempting for a number of people to close ranks and suggest the problem is or was local to a small group of journalists then operating at the News of the World.

I would encourage all to take a wider picture of the public good, and help me grapple with the length, width and depth of the problem as it exists."

Leveson said he has the legal power to demand evidence from witnesses and plans to use it "as soon as possible."

He said he would invite all editors, journalists and media owners to highlight what they saw as "inappropriate" practices.

The inquiry will examine press ethics and practices in relation to the public, politicians and police.

Murdoch has been questioned by MPs over allegations of widespread phone-hacking at his group`s Sunday tabloid, the 168-year-old `News of the World`.

Lord Leveson said it was critical that the inquiry concentrated on "the central and most important issue", adding the "focus of the inquiry is the culture practices and ethics of the press in the context of the latter`s relationship with the public, the police and politicians."

He said in September he would hold "a series of seminars on the ethics of journalism and the practices and pressures of investigative journalism", and added: "At some stage there needs to be a discussion of what amounts to the public good, to what extent the public interest should be taken into account and by whom".

There have been concerns that Lord Leveson had some links with the Rupert Murdoch family, due to the fact that he attended two parties at the home of Matthew Freud, the publicist and husband of Elisabeth Murdoch, the daughter of News Corps chairman, Rupert Murdoch.

He said he had met Freud by chance at a dinner in February 2010 when Freud had offered to do some work free of charge on the issue of public confidence in sentencing.

Leveson is chair of the Sentencing Council.

Lord Leveson added that with the knowledge of the Lord Chief Justice, he attended two large evening events at Freud`s London home in London in July 2010 and January 2011 to discuss these issues.