Judge Brian Leveson makes a statement during the first official meeting for the public inquiry into Britain's phone hacking scandal at the QEII Centre in central London, on July 28, 2011. — Photo by AFP

LONDON: The public inquiry into Britain's phone hacking scandal opened on Thursday, with judge Brian Leveson and his six-strong panel holding their first official meeting.

The inquiry, called by Prime Minister David Cameron in the wake of allegations of wrongdoing at the now-shuttered News of the World tabloid, has 12 months to report back to government with its conclusions.

“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,” Leveson said in his opening remarks.

The inquiry probing Britain's phone hacking scandal will start by looking at media ethics and press regulation, Leveson said.

The inquiry chief said he would hold seminars in October on topics including the law, journalistic ethics, investigative journalism and press freedom.

“I hope that an appropriate cross section of the entire profession (including those from the broadcast media) will be involved in the discussion,” he said.

Witness evidence will be given under oath, a spokesman for the inquiry told AFP.

“It may be tempting for a number of people to close ranks and suggest that the problem is or was local to a group of journalists then operating at the News of the World, but I would encourage all to take a wider view of the public good and help me grapple with the width and depth of the problem,” he said.

Leveson and his panel, which includes a police chief, a former newspaper chairman, former newspaper and television political editors, a former media watchdog chief and a civil liberties pressure group leader, set out by declaring their own links to the press, politicians and the police.

They held a first meeting at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in central London, a short walk in either direction from the Houses of Parliament and Scotland Yard police headquarters.

Leveson said the inquiry would be careful not to prejudice any criminal investigation or potential prosecution.

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