Judge heading NotW investigation attended Murdoch family parties

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by a Newsnet reporter

A new front opened in the on-going saga of the decline and fall of the News of the World when it emerged over the weekend that Lord Leveson, the judge appointed by Prime Minster David Cameron to head the enquiry into the phone hacking and corruption scandal, has himself socialised with members of the Murdoch family and was a guest at at least two parties hosted by Matthew Freud at his family home.  Mr Freud is the husband of Elizabeth Murdoch, eldest daughter of the tycoon and likely heir to the family business.

Lord Leveson has also dined socially with Mr Freud, most recently at an Oxford college in February of 2010.  The pair are reported to have met in order to discuss how to promote public confidence in the judicial system.

In a statement released yesterday, a spokesperson for Lord Leveson said: “In his capacity as Chairman of the Sentencing Council, and with the knowledge of the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Justice Leveson attended two large evening events at Mr Freud’s London home: these were on July 29, 2010, and January 25, 2011.”

Lord Leveson’s office declined to comment on whether he had met any of the Murdoch family at the parties.  However the statement did confirm that the Prime Minister had been informed and had raised no objections.

The statement from Lord Leveson’s office added: “Lord Justice Leveson was not involved in that meeting and he has neither met nor spoken to anyone from Freud Communications since January 2011.

“There is, in any event, no continuing relationship.  Prior to his appointment to the inquiry, Lord Justice Leveson ensured that these matters were brought to the attention of the Prime Minister.”

Labour MP Chris Bryant expressed his outrage over the news, saying it was now difficult to regard Lord Leveson as an independent figure, because “in practice he will have to bend over backwards to have a go at Murdoch or be accused of giving him an easy time.  If this had been known from the start it might be fine – as with every step, transparency has come by dragging it out of them.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband is now reportedly considering calls made by Labour MPs for Lord Leveson to be removed from the enquiry.