LONDON — Rupert Murdoch flew to London on Sunday to tackle the phone-hacking crisis that has engulfed his media empire and forced the closure of the British tabloid News of the World.
With a “Thank You & Goodbye” headline, the paper on Sunday bid farewell to its readers — a whopping 7.5 million of them. Clutching the paper’s 8,674th and final edition, editor Colin Myler told the reporters gathered outside the paper’s office late Saturday: “This is not where we wanted to be, and it’s not where we deserve to be.” He added: “In the best tradition of Fleet Street, we are going to the pub.”
But the scandal that led to the newspaper’s death continues.
The Sunday Times, which, like the News of the World, is owned by Murdoch’s News International, reported that in 2007, the company uncovered evidence that suggested the tabloid’s phone hacking was more widespread than previously thought, and that the News of the World paid police for tip-offs. That information was given to police June 20, the BBC reported.
On Sunday night, Murdoch and his son James, News International’s chairman, met with Rebekah Brooks, the company’s chief executive, who recently suggested to the News of the World staff that there are worse revelations to come.
The scandal has cast doubt on the outcome of Murdoch’s bid for full control of British Sky Broadcasting, Britain’s largest pay TV provider.
Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition Labor party, said he will force a vote in Parliament on Wednesday to try to halt the government’s decision on the BSkyB bid until the police investigation of illegal activity at News of the World concludes.
At the same time, Prime Minister David Cameron’s judgment continues to draw scrutiny. A growing number of people, including Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger and politician Paddy Ashdown, say they warned Cameron’s team about the danger of hiring Andy Coulson, editor of the News of the World from 2003 to 2007, as Cameron’s communications chief. Coulson was arrested on Friday and released on bail.
Much of the news coverage Sunday focused on the police. John Yates, Scotland Yard’s assistant commissioner, apologized in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph for failing to reopen the phone-hacking investigation in 2009, after the Guardian claimed the News of the World had hacked into “thousands” of cellphones belonging to celebrities and politicians.
“In hindsight there is a shed load of stuff in there I wish I’d known,” said Yates, who is among those whose phone was hacked.
There have also been news reports that a handful of corrupt police officers were paid tens of thousands of pounds in cash — by one account, stuffed in envelopes that were handed off at a McDonald’s drive-through — in exchange for information. Yates said any officer caught taking bribes would face jail.
In its final edition, the News of the World ran a full-page editorial in which it apologized for intercepting voice mails. “Quite simply we lost our way,” the paper said.
For more than a century, Britain’s biggest-selling Sunday tabloid has both delighted and appalled the nation with its celebrity exposes and high-profile sting operations.
Its final front page was a montage of famous covers, with headlines such as “Beckham’s Secret Affair,” “Harry’s Racist Video Shame,” “Duke and the Hooker” and “Fergie ‘Sells’ Andy for 500K.”
The paper trafficked in human misery but also championed populist campaigns, including those for servicemen and victims of pedophilia. One of its former editors famously called it “as British as roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.”
But in the end, the paper was brought down by allegations of extensive phone hacking that seemed too shocking to be true. Last week, the tabloid faced charges that its targets included relatives of victims of terrorist attacks and fallen soldiers, as well as the murdered teenager Milly Dowler, whose phone messages were reportedly deleted to make more space, giving her family false hope she was alive.
David Wooding, the paper’s political editor, said in an interview that he found it “quite astonishing” that one week he could be working for “the biggest, most profitable, most successful” Sunday paper and the next be looking for a job.