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UK press braces for verdict of ethics inquiry

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[November 29, 2012]  LONDON (AP) -- Britain's rambunctious press braced Thursday for censure and tougher scrutiny as an ethics inquiry triggered by tabloid phone hacking released its wide-ranging report.

Lord Justice Brian Leveson was due to release the findings of his yearlong inquiry, which heard evidence from hundreds of journalists, politicians, lawyers and victims of press intrusion.

His report, reportedly running to 2,000 pages, was due for release at 1:30 p.m. (1330 GMT, 8:30 a.m. EST). As the public waited for the release of the report, victims of phone hacking including actor Hugh Grant arrived at the Queen Elizabeth II center to hear the conclusions.

Prime Minister David Cameron set up the inquiry after revelations of illegal eavesdropping by the now-defunct News of the World tabloid sparked a criminal investigation and a wave of public revulsion.

Leveson is expected to criticize the cozy relationship between politicians, police and the press and to recommend stronger newspaper regulation.

Many politicians and members of the public want a regulatory body enshrined in law, but some lawmakers, editors and journalists fear that could limit press freedom.

Parliament would have to approve any legal changes the report recommends, and Cameron is under intense pressure from both sides. He is also tainted by his own ties to prominent figures in the scandal.

It erupted in 2011 when it was revealed that the Rupert Murdoch-owned News of the World had eavesdropped on the mobile phone voicemails of slain schoolgirl Milly Dowler while police were searching for the 13-year-old.

Murdoch shut down the 168-year-old newspaper in July 2011. His U.K. newspaper company, News International, has paid damages to dozens of hacking victims, and faces lawsuits from dozens more.

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The former Murdoch editors and journalists subsequently charged with phone hacking, police bribery or other wrongdoing include Cameron's former spokesman, Andy Coulson, and ex-News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks, a friend of the prime minister.

Coulson and Brooks were appearing in court Thursday on charges of paying public officials for information.

Cameron, who received a copy of Leveson's report on Wednesday, is due to make a statement about it in the House of Commons later Thursday.

He and other senior politicians insist they will not curb Britain's long tradition of free speech.

"Everybody wants two things: firstly, a strong, independent, raucous press who can hold people in positions of power to account, and secondly to protect ordinary people -- the vulnerable, the innocent -- when the press overstep the mark," Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said Thursday.

"That's the balance that we are trying to strike and I am sure we will."

[Associated Press; By JILL LAWLESS]

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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