It was over three centuries ago that Parliament stood firm and refused to renew the Licensing of the Press Act, which allowed the government to prevent the publication of “seditious treasonable” material.

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Since then the British press has largely enjoyed freedom from state interference; its only check being the system of self regulation embodied in the Press Complaints Commission or litigation in the courts.

It is this liberal set-up that is exclusively enjoyed in this country that has meant Britain can really say freedom of speech is the cornerstone of our democracy and we should never underestimate how valuable that is. Of course, that is all pretty high minded.

It did not mean anything to the mother of Milly Dowler when she discovered journalists from a national tabloid were involved in hacking her murdered daughter’s mobile.

It did not mean anything to the McCanns, as they were hounded by photographers while trying to deal with their daughter’s disappearance.

We are a defender of the right to freedom of speech; but there is no escaping that a minority of journalists have abused that right, acting in despicable ways that brings shame to our industry.

But as the prime minister decides how to respond to Lord Leveson’s report today we urge him, as a responsible regional newspaper, to conduct the operation he must now perform with a scalpel and not a sledgehammer. If he gets it wrong there may be irreparable damage.

Reform to ensure the public can begin to rebuild the trust in the press that has been lost, but do not do anything to harm the freedom of speech that allows them to speak truth to power.

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