News of the World to close as Rupert Murdoch acts to limit fallout

The tabloid's 200 staff are told that Sunday's edition will be the last, as speculation grows that it will be replaced by the Sun

Rupert Murdoch acted with characteristic ruthlessness by closing the News of the World, Britain's best-selling Sunday newspaper, in a desperate attempt to limit the political and commercial fallout from the phone-hacking affair engulfing his media empire.

Murdoch's son James, who runs his UK titles, told the paper's 200 staff that Sunday's edition of the paper, which sells 2.6m copies a week, would be its last, ending the 168-year history of the title his father bought in 1969, a purchase that introduced him to the British public for the first time. The last News of the World will carry no commercial advertising.

"The good things the News of the World does … have been sullied by behaviour that was wrong. Indeed, if recent allegations are true, it was inhuman and has no place in our company," he said.

"The News of the World is in the business of holding others to account. But it failed when it came to itself."

There was immediate speculation last night that the paper will be replaced by a Sunday edition of the Sun which could be produced by staff at the daily. The domain names, and were registered two days ago.

Readers and retailers had reacted with disgust to the revelation this week that journalists at the News of the World ordered the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire to hack into voicemail messages left on a mobile phone belonging to murdered teenager Milly Dowler in 2002, one of the most damaging in a series of reports by the Guardian on the hacking scandal over the last two years.

It also emerged that Mulcaire may have targeted the relatives of British servicemen killed in Afghanistan and Iraq and survivors of the 7/7 terrorist attacks on London. A reader boycott also seemed likely and one independent chain of newsagents said it would not stock the title.

Mark Lewis, the solicitor for Milly Dowler's family, said: "People are losing their jobs in order to sacrifice themselves to save the real perpetrators … lots of good individuals have lost their jobs or will lose their jobs and the people who should have fallen on their swords are still there."

Of Rupert Murdoch, who was filmed on a golf course during the crisis and refused to comment, Lewis added: "It's a bit like Nero fiddling while Rome was burning."

News International's chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, a former editor of the News of the World, was said to be in tears as news of the closure was announced. A News of the World employee who did not want to be named said Brooks had said she had offered to resign in the wake of Ed Miliband's call for her to be sacked, but that offer had been rejected. News International denies that claim.

Miliband said last night of the closure: "It's a big act but I don't think it solves the real issues. One of the people who's remaining in her job is the chief executive of News International who was the editor at the time of the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone."

Downing Street said last night: "What matters is that all wrongdoing is exposed and those responsible for these appalling acts are brought to justice."

Staff at the paper reacted with fury to the news, with one source claiming there was a "lynch mob mentality" at its London offices.

Colin Myler, the editor of the News of the World, said: "Whatever price this staff are paying for past misdeeds, nothing should diminish everything this great newspaper has achieved."

The newspaper was once Murdoch's flagship title although its stablemate, the Sun, is now more profitable, but it remained a totemic title around the world. In 1951 it sold 8.4m copies, the biggest ever circulation for any newspaper. Even now, only a handful of English-language newspapers can match its circulation.

The closure followed another day of high drama, during which more companies, including O2, the mobile phone company 3, Sainsbury's and Boots said they would not be placing adverts in the paper on Sunday. The News of the World takes about £660,000 in advertising income each weekend.

James Murdoch admitted to staff it was "a matter of serious regret" that he had authorised a six-figure payment to a phone-hacking victim several years ago, but blamed others at the company for his decision. "I now know that I did not have a complete picture when I did so," he said. "I acted on the advice of executives and lawyers."

A News of the World employee said staff suspected Murdoch had closed the title to ensure his £8bn bid to take full control of BSkyB goes through. Miliband has called for the deal to be blocked.

Labour MP Tom Watson, who has been highlighting the phone-hacking scandal at the paper for two years, said: "Rupert Murdoch did not close the News of the World. It is the revulsion of families up and down the land as to what they got up to. It was going to lose all its readers and it had no advertisers left. They had no choice."

Murdoch is renowned for risk-taking and for making bold moves swiftly. But the closure of the News of the World is one of the most shocking and unexpected decisions he has made since he moved his title secretly to Wapping in east London in a successful attempt to break the print unions. It is the first closure of a national newspaper in Britain since Today was shut down, also by Murdoch, in 1995.

Murdoch bought the News of the World 42 years ago after a protracted takeover battle with the late Robert Maxwell and immediately took it in a direction that many regarded as downmarket. It became the building block for his UK newspaper empire, which would in turn finance the expansion of News Corp into a global media conglomerate.


James Robinson

The GuardianTramp

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