Phone-hacking: Murdoch sacrifices News of the World

Rupert Murdoch axes News of the World
Rupert Murdoch axes News of the World. Photo: AFP / Getty Images

By Alex Stevenson  and Ian Dunt

This Sunday's edition will be the final issue of News of the World, it has been announced, as the tabloid pays the price for its phone-hacking past.

The dramatic twist in the phone-hacking saga came after a week in which public and political opinion turned decisively against the Murdochs' dominance of British media.

After months of insisting that phone-hacking was confined to just one journalist, News International has finally admitted that the practise was much more widespread.


Earlier the Metropolitan police said that up to 4,000 people may have had their phones hacked into by private investigators working for News of the World.

In a bid to isolate the problem News International chairman James Murdoch has axed the entire tabloid, blaming the entire newspaper's culture and attempting to distance himself from wrongdoing.

"The News of the World is in the business of holding others to account. But it failed when it came to itself," Mr Murdoch said in a statement to staff.

Downing Street said No 10 had not had a hand in the decision.

"What matters is that all wrongdoing is exposed and those responsible for these appalling acts are brought to justice," a spokesman said.

"As the prime minister has made clear, he is committed to establishing rigorous public inquiries to make sure this never happens in our country again."

Mr Murdoch said "wrongdoers" had "turned a good newsroom bad" and the failing had not been "fully understood or adequately pursued".

He continued: "In 2006, the police focused their investigations on two men. Both went to jail. But the News of the World and News International failed to get to the bottom of repeated wrongdoing that occurred without conscience or legitimate purpose."

Both the News of the World and News International "wrongly maintained that these issues were confined to one reporter", he conceded.

Evidence has now been handed to the police acknowledging that the practise was much more widely spread.

"Those who acted wrongly will have to face the consequences. This was not the only fault," Mr Murdoch added.

"The paper made statements to parliament without being in the full possession of the facts. This was wrong.

"The company paid out-of-court settlements approved by me. I now know that I did not have a complete picture when I did so. This was wrong and is a matter of serious regret."

It remains unclear whether News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks will keep her job. That could depend on evidence submitted to the police, whose investigation into criminal activity is now expected to make much quicker progress.

Rumours are already circulating that former editor Andy Coulson, who resigned as David Cameron's head of communications over the scandal, faces arrest shortly.

Labour leader Ed Miliband responded by saying: "It's a big decision but I don't think it can solve the problem.

"Lots of people are losing their jobs today but someone that's not losing their job is the editor at the time.

"[Rebekah Brooks] should go. She should take responsibility."

Labour MP Tom Watson, who has long campaigned on the issue of phone-hacking, commented: "No one was going to buy this paper any more. No one was going to advertise in it. They destroyed this paper."

Online, rumours about the plan being part of a strategy to promote a Sunday version of the Sun spread quickly.

Sources suggested that the domain name 'thesunonsunday.co.uk' was registered just two days earlier 'to persons unknown. News reports from last month also reveal efforts to integrate News International's managing editor structure across the daily and Sunday brands.

Even senior politicians appear unimpressed. Justice secretary Kenneth Clarke suggested: "All they're going to do is rebrand it."

A News International spokesperson told the BBC that the News of the World's 200 staff would have the opportunity to apply for jobs elsewhere in the company, rather than face dismissal outright.

The News of the World closes after 168 years. Mr Murdoch said it had a "proud history of fighting crime, exposing wrongdoing and regularly setting the news agenda for the nation".

He also said proceeds from the last edition of the newspaper would be donated to good causes.

David Wooding, the political editor of the News of the World, said he was "horrified" by the announcement, however.

"All this happened five-plus years ago under a team with different editors, different staff - there's only about three people working on the paper who were there at the time," he told the BBC.

"We came in to clean the place up. And the problem is all these distinguished hard-working journalists are carrying the can.

"I'm horrified by what happened, it's wrong, wrong, wrong... it wasn't us lot, and we're the ones taking the stick."

Mr Murdoch attempted to mitigate the impact of the tabloid's staff losing their jobs by praising their journalistic skills.

"You may see these changes as a price loyal staff at the News of the World are paying for the transgressions of others," Mr Murdoch said.

"So please hear me when I say that your good work is a credit to journalism. I do not want the legitimacy of what you do to be compromised by acts of others. I want all journalism at News International to be beyond reproach. I insist that this organisation lives up to the standard of behaviour we expect of others."

Colin Myler, brought in after Mr Coulson was sacked, will edit the final issue of the red-top, it was confirmed.

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