Rupert Murdoch was heading to London on Saturday to take charge of dealing with the phone-hacking scandal at Britain’s News of the World tabloid, as journalists prepared the paper’s final edition.
The News Corp. chief was expected to arrive in Britain on Sunday, a company source said, just days after the shock decision to close the News of the World which has been in circulation for 168 years.
Murdoch has been keen to limit the fallout from the crisis at the tabloid which has cast a shadow over his bid to take full control of satellite broadcaster BSkyB, on which the government is due to decide soon.
Many journalists at the News of the World’s offices were wearing black as they prepared the final edition, which will be published on Sunday, the paper’s political editor David Wooding wrote on Twitter.
As he made his way to work, News of the World editor Colin Myler said: “It’s a very sad day. I’m thinking about my team of talented journalists.”
Murdoch surprised observers on Thursday when he killed off the News of the World, Britain’s biggest-selling Sunday paper, which is part of his British newspaper publishing arm, News International.
The decision came after claims the paper hacked the voicemails of a murdered girl and the families of dead soldiers.
After several days of fresh hacking allegations, the scandal escalated on Friday with the arrest of Prime Minister David Cameron’s ex-media chief, Andy Coulson, and the News of the World’s former royal editor.
Cameron faced a tough press conference as he was forced to defend his decision to hire Coulson, who was News of the World editor from 2003 to 2007, a period when much of the phone hacking was alleged to have taken place.
“The decision to hire him was mine and mine alone, and I take full responsibility for it,” Cameron said, adding however that Coulson “became a friend and is a friend”.
Coulson, who was released on bail Friday until October after his arrest on suspicion of involvement in phone hacking and corruption, quit as Cameron’s communications director in January as the crisis grew.
This followed his resignation from the top job at The News of the World in 2007 after a journalist and a private investigator working for the paper were jailed over phone hacking.
As editor, Coulson said he took ultimate responsibility for the hacking but always denied any knowledge that it took place on his watch.
The Conservative prime minister announced a judge-led public inquiry into the furore, as well as a second inquiry into the way in which the British press is regulated.
But the opposition Labour Party demanded Saturday that a judge be appointed for the inquiry “with immediate effect” following a report that a News International executive destroyed vital evidence.
“In view of the fact that the News of the World is shutting down, it is a matter of great urgency that any documentary evidence, including files and emails, is preserved to enable a proper inquiry into these serious allegations to take place,” said the party ‘s culture spokesman Ivan Lewis.
“It is essential that we engage in immediate discussions so that by the end of the day we are in a position to agree the appointment of the judge.”
The call came after the Guardian newspaper reported that police were investigating whether an executive deleted “millions of emails” from an internal archive. A News International spokeswoman said: “This assertion is rubbish.”
On Friday, police also arrested Clive Goodman, the News of the World’s former royal editor and one of two men jailed in 2007 for hacking the voicemails of Princes William and Harry.
He was detained on allegations of corruption and later bailed until October.
A third man, aged 63, was arrested on suspicion of corruption late Friday and was later released on bail until October.
Staff at the News of the World are furious at the closure, widely regarded as a way of protecting Rebekah Brooks, who is head of News International and was editor of the News of the World for three years before Coulson.
Despite calls for her resignation, Brooks has insisted she will not go.
Photo by David Shankbone.