The judge tasked to investigate press ethics has said a regional newspaper’s contribution to life in its area is “without parallel”.

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Leveson: How did we get here?

August 2006: News of the World royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire are arrested over allegations they hacked phones of members of the royal household.

January 2007: Goodman is jailed for four months. Mulcaire is given a six-month term. Then editor Andy Coulson resigns, saying he had not known of the offences.

July 2009: It emerges News of the World reporters illegally accessed celebrities’ and politicians’ phones while Coulson was editor.

November 2009: By now both the police and the Press Complaints Commission say they have seen no new evidence of phone hacking.

July 4, 2011: Police inform the family of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler that the victim’s voicemail messages were hacked, possibly by a News of the World investigator. It comes days after the government backed plans by News Corp to buy out BSkyB.

July 7: News Corp announces the closure of the News of the World as the list of phone hacking victims lengthens.

July 8: Coulson, who also served as David Cameron’s media adviser, is arrested on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications.

July 13: News Corp withdraws its bid for BSkyB. Top executives resign, including Rebekah Brooks, another former News of the World editor.

July 19: Rupert Murdoch, questioned by a parliamentary committee, says he was “shocked, appalled and ashamed” when he heard about the Dowler case. A protester throws a custard pie at him.

November 14: Lord Leveson’s inquiry into press ethics begins.

March 13, 2012: James Murdoch writes a letter apologising for the hacking scandal.

April 3: James Murdoch resigns as chairman of BSkyB.

May 10 and 11: Coulson and Brooks appear at Leveson. Brooks provides colourful details of her friendship with the prime minister.

May 15: Brooks is charged with interfering with a police investigation into phone hacking.

November 20: Coulson and Brooks are charged with conspiring to make illegal payments to officials for information for stories.

November 29: Lord Leveson reports back, calling for a powerful new body to regulate the press.

Lord Leveson, who yesterday published his report on press regulation, made the comments as he distinguished between “much praised” regional papers and the national publications that had undertaken illegal phone hacking.

In his report he noted how many local papers were facing tough economic circumstances, but said if any had to close as a result it would be “a real loss for our democracy”.

In his report he called for the government to act to help regional media stay strong, adding: “I must make a special point about Britain’s regional newspapers.

“In one sense, they are less affected by the global availability of the biggest news stories, but their contribution to local life is truly without parallel.”

He added: “Although accuracy and similar complaints are made against local newspapers, the criticisms of culture, practices and ethics of the press that have been raised in this Inquiry do not affect them; on the contrary, they have been much praised.”

Lord Leveson’s inquiry was launched in the wake of the phone hacking scandal, but his probe ranged across the relationship between the press, politicians and police.

Running up to the publication there was feverish speculation over whether Lord Leveson would call for laws to regulate the press; something newspaper editors argue would impinge freedom of speech and break with 300 years of British tradition.

His report eventually called for a new regulatory body, set up by the press industry but independent of it in terms of its personnel; no newspaper editors would be able to sit on it. Instead people with expertise in the press – possibly academics and former editors – would. It would have the power to dictate how newspapers made printed apologies, but would not be able to prevent the publication of any story. It would have the power to run investigations and levy fines up to 1pc of a paper’s turnover or up to £1m.

Lord Leveson said some new legislation passed by MPs would be required to give the body a footing in law, but denied this represented government control of the press.

He said: “Despite what will be said about these recommendations by those who oppose them, this is not, and cannot be characterised as, statutory regulation of the press.

“What is proposed here is independent regulation of the press organised by the press, with a statutory verification process to ensure that required levels of independence and effectiveness are met by the system.”

Despite promises to work together on reform, a split between the three main parties appeared after the report was published.

Labour leader Ed Miliband and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg backed full implementation of Leveson’s proposals during a Commons debate.

But prime minister David Cameron, pictured, who also praised the regional press, said he had concerns that any form of statute relating to newspapers could restrict freedom of speech. The leaders committed to talks to find a way forward.

Lord Leveson’s inquiry also looked at how the government handled the bid of Rupert Murdoch’s News International to take over BSkyB.

Labour MPs, including former prime minister Gordon Brown, had accused the government of “doing a deal” with Mr Murdoch, in which Tory ministers would approve the takeover in return for media support.

But Lord Leveson said he saw no evidence of bias on the part of then culture secretary Jeremy Hunt in handling the deal.

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