Lord Justice Leveson discussed claims he threatened to quit (Leveson)

Lord Justice Leveson has said he has no plans to attack press freedom in a response to articles that claimed he had threatened to quit.

Speaking before calling the first witness of the day to the inquiry into press ethics, Leveson commented on a Mail on Sunday front page article which claimed he met the cabinet secretary following criticism from education secretary Michale Gove.

Leveson admitted that he met Jeremy Heywood over Gove's comments that the inquiry was having a "chilling effect" on free speech.

He said: "On many occasions throughout the hearings, I have consistently and repeatedly emphasised the fundamental importance of free speech and a free press. Further, I have recognised that everyone is entitled to an opinion on a topic such as this which is of widespread public interest and the subject of vigorous public debate.

"It is absolutely correct that the press should be able to hold this inquiry in general and me in particular to account. The Mail on Sunday, the Daily Mail and those other newspapers that published the story are and were entitled to do so with whatever comment they considered appropriate.

"Having said that, however, it is at least arguable that what has happened is an example of an approach which seeks to convert any attempt to question the conduct of the press as an attack on free speech.

"I will not be deterred from seeking to fulfil the terms of reference that have been set for me."

Leveson explained his concern that Gove's comments could have a "further critical dimension" as the minister's viewpoint could represent the view of the government - thus signalling that the findings of the inquiry would lack impact.

He said he spoke to Heywood because, "I wanted to find out whether Mr Gove was speaking for the government, whether it was thought that the very existence of the inquiry was having a chilling effect on healthy vibrant journalism and whether the government had effectively reached a settled view on any political recommendations.

"Put shortly, I was concerned about the perception that the inquiry was being undermined while it was taking place."

He said he understood editors' concerns over the dangers of a "knee-jerk" response by the inquiry and that his comments will be assessed constantly for a "hidden agenda".

"There is none," he said. "No recommendations have been formulated or written, no conclusions have yet been reached. Testing propositions is not any equivalent to the expression of views concluded or otherwise."