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British tabloid to shutter in wake of phone hacking scandal

News of the World to shut down amid allegations that the cell phones of a murder victim and others were hacked.

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills
4 min read
James Murdoch, chairman of News International, announced the closure of News of the World.
James Murdoch, chairman of News International, announced the closure of News of the World. News International

British tabloid News of the World is shutting down as a result of allegations that representatives of the newspaper hacked into phone accounts of news subjects, including celebrities, politicians, and a murder victim, and made payments to police.

The tabloid, which has more than 2.6 million subscribers, will shut down after Sunday's issue, the company said in a statement issued today.

Meanwhile, former News of the World Editor Andy Coulson, who resigned in January as communications director for British Prime Minister David Cameron over the phone hacking scandal, was asked to appear for questioning at a London police station on Friday and is expected to be arrested at that time, The Guardian reported. Coulson has denied any knowledge of the hacking. Three former colleagues and two other journalists were arrested in recent months in connection with the allegations.

The reputation of the 168-year-old newspaper has been "sullied by behavior that was wrong," wrote James Murdoch, deputy chief operating officer of the paper's publisher, News International, both of which are owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. "If recent allegations are true, it was inhuman and has no place in our company."

Executives said the phone hacking was more widespread than previously believed and that they are cooperating with investigations into the allegations.

"Wrongdoers turned a good newsroom bad and this was not fully understood or adequately pursued," Murdoch wrote. "As a result, the News of the World and News International wrongly maintained that these issues were confined to one reporter. We now have voluntarily given evidence to the police that I believe will prove that this was untrue and those who acted wrongly will have to face the consequences."

The weekend editions of News of the World will have no commercial advertisements and will devote all of the revenue to "good causes," according to Murdoch.

About 200 News of the World employees will be laid off and will have the opportunity to apply for positions with other News Corp. companies, Alice Macandrew, a News Corp. spokeswoman in London, told CNET.

It's possible that News Corp.-owned daily tabloid The Sun could replace News of the World on Sunday if the registration of the name "TheSunOnSunday.co.uk" on Tuesday is any indication. Macandrew said she could not comment on whether The Sun would be published on Sunday, in addition to Monday through Saturday, adding: "That's a matter for the future."

Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp., which owns both The News of the World and The Sun, as well as The Wall Street Journal.
Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp., which owns both News of the World and The Sun News Corp.

A phone hacking scandal, which allegedly involved hacked phone accounts of celebrities, politicians, and the British royal family, broadened this week after news came out on Tuesday that a private investigator may have interfered with a police investigation by breaking into the cell phone of a missing teen and deleting voice mail messages nine years ago, before she was found dead. Scotland Yard is investigating the case, which involves the phone of 13-year-old Milly Dowler, whose body was discovered in September 2002, six months after she disappeared on her way home from school. Detectives allegedly found evidence of the account tampering of the Dowler phone among 11,000 pages of notes kept by Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator who was jailed in 2007 along with editor Clive Goodman after they admitting to intercepting messages on behalf of Rupert Murdoch's News of the World, according to reports.

Also on Tuesday, the families of two other child murder victims--10-year-olds Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, killed in 2002--and a "handful" of the 52 families who lost loved ones in the 2005 London bombings were also notified by Scotland Yard that their mobile phone numbers may have been intercepted on behalf of representatives for News of the World, The Telegraph reported. Meanwhile, the Royal British Legion charity cut its ties with News of the World following reports that family members of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan may have had their phones hacked. And Ford, British supermarket chain J. Sainsbury, energy company Npower, mobile company 02 and pharmacy chain Boots said they were suspending advertising in the tabloid over the scandal.

Previously, News International admitted liability in civil cases and paid out-of-court settlements, including about $160,000 to actress Sienna Miller and more than $30,000 to sports presenter Andy Gray over phone hacking charges. Other alleged victims were politicians and members of and aides to the royal family and a host of celebrities including Jude Law, Elle Macpherson, and Hugh Grant, who secretly recorded a former News of the World journalist talking about how widespread phone hacking is.

Today, the Metropolitan Police Service in England, also known as Scotland Yard, said it was referring an investigation into alleged "inappropriate payments to a small number of MPS officers" to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Details of payments allegedly made by News of the World to officers surfaced on Wednesday after News International sent e-mails to police as part of an internal investigation. The tabloid allegedly paid more than $160,000 to officers in return for confidential information, according to The London Evening Standard.

Updated at 1:30 p.m. PT with report of arrest pending, more background on hacking scandal, at 11:17 a.m. PT with more background on hacking allegations, at 10:47 a.m. PT with spokeswoman's comment on The Sun, as well as news of layoffs, and more background on hacking allegations, at 10:13 a.m. PT with registration of TheSunOnSunday.co.uk Web site, and at 9:52 a.m. PT with Murdoch statement and more details.