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The editors all said they had ethical boundaries. Nixon said Hello! would not run pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge, the former Kate Middleton, shopping or going about her daily life.

But they also acknowledged they sometimes got it wrong, as when Hello! ran snatched photos of the wedding of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas in 2000. The couple had signed an exclusive 1-million pound deal with OK! to cover the lavish event at New York’s Plaza Hotel.

Zeta-Jones said she had felt “violated” when Hello! published its “sleazy and unflattering” pictures.

The case sparked a long-running lawsuit, which OK! won.

Nixon called running the unauthorized pictures “a mistake … a very costly mistake.”

All three editors said they avoided publishing pictures of celebrities who were known to value their privacy, filling their pages instead with those who enjoyed the exposure.

Heat’s Lucie Cave said the magazine had no problem running paparazzi pictures of Simon Cowell on a yacht because “we know from working with him that he enjoys the lifestyle that goes with his celebrity.”

Leveson, who is due to make recommendations on media reform later this year, raised the idea of a celebrity privacy register, in which famous people could indicate how much media coverage they wanted of their lives.

Cave said it could be useful, but Byrne worried it could lead to empty pages if too many celebs opted out.

The judge, who had a copy of Heat amid the legal papers on his desk, acknowledged the world of celebrity glossies was not his usual territory.

Nixon advised him at one point that “you mustn’t believe everything you read” about the fees paid to celebrities for exclusive stories.

“Oh,” Leveson said. “Should I not?”

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Online: http://www.levesoninquiry.org.uk

Jill Lawless can be reached at: http://twitter.com/JillLawless