Ruth Dudley Edwards: Harrowing stories of cruel hounding and trial by media
Ruth Dudley Edwards has been listening to both victims and journalists at the Levenson Inquiry
I had expected Alastair Campbell to be the star of last week's hearings before the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British media, but he was relegated almost to the chorus-line. Of course he was articulate and pugnacious, and he shows contempt as stylishly as any Regency buck just by a curl of the lip, but in truth it was impossible to listen for long to such a sanitised and pious account of his time as a journalist or his dealings with the press from his Downing Street power-base.
On Friday, Ian Kirby, formerly an assistant editor at the now defunct News of the World, put the boot in for the sceptics: "Was this the Alastair who invented the 'fact' that Sir John Major wore his shirt tucked in his underpants? Was this the Alastair who hinted to me and other Sunday Lobby journalists that Peter Mandelson may have been mentally unbalanced during his second resignation? Or the same Alastair who encouraged Andy Coulson and me to ask Tony and Cherie Blair if they were members of the Mile High Club, knowing it would make a fantastic headline in the News of the World just before the 2001 General Election?"
Like many other decent tabloid journalists, Kirby is incensed at being lumped together with those who disgraced their profession. There will be time for a considered defence of the tabloid press, but just for now, it's the stories of the victims that still rightly dominate proceedings.