7 Jul 2011

Phone hacking scandal closes News of the World

Home Affairs Correspondent

The News of the World is to close because of the phone hacking scandal as the private investigator at the heart of the crisis tells Channel 4 News hack victims were chosen “by committee”.

Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson has been told by police he could be arrested as early as Friday morning, according to the Guardian newspaper. He faces questioning over suspicions that he knew about, or had direct involvement in, phone hacking during his tenure as editor.

His predecessor, Rebekah Brooks, now chief executive of News International, was said to have been in tears as news of the paper’s demise was announced to staff.

The first hint of the shutdown came in a statement by James Murdoch, News Corporation’s Deputy Chief Operating Officer. He said: “I have important things to say about the News of the World and the steps we are taking to address the very serious problems that have occurred.”

He continued: “The News of the World is in the business of holding others to account. But it failed when it came to itself.”

The statement concluded: “Having consulted senior colleagues, I have decided that we must take further decisive action with respect to the paper.

“This Sunday will be the last issue of the News of the World.”

More from Channel 4 New: Live blog - how the story unfolded 
Rebrekah Brooks leaves the offices of the News of the World on Thursday 7 July. (Getty)

The 168-year-old newspaper – whose first edition in 1843 proclaimed “Our motto is truth. Our practice is the fearless advocacy of truth” – has been hit by a series of revelations in recent days about the alleged phone hacking of Milly Dowler, 7/7 victims and the relatives of soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

Speaking to ITV News, James Murdoch said of the decision to close the newspaper: “I feel regret. Certain individuals did not live up to the standards and quality of journalism that I believe in.”

(Pictured: Rebekah Brooks leaves the offices of the News of the World on Thursday 7 July. Getty)

On the future of Rebekah Brooks, Mr Murdoch pledged: “Rebekah and I, and this company, are absolutely committed to doing the right thing.

He continued: “I am satisifed that Rebekah, her leadership in this business, and her standards of ethics and conduct throughout her career, are very good.”

By Thursday evening it was reported that Ms Brooks had offered her resignation as chief executive of News International on Wednesday evening.

Sources from inside the News of the World newsroom, where the announcement was made, say there was “mass anger” directed towards Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International. Sky News has reported that Ms Brooks was in tears. The company, according to departing staff, had taken the precaution of blocking access to the Twitter network as the news of the closure was broken to them.

Click to download James Murdoch’s statement in full

NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet issued a statement condemning the decision to fold the newspaper. suggesting that the decision was motivated by News Corporation’s desire to secure control of BSkyB.

“Murdoch is clearly banking on this drawing a line under the scandal, removing an obstacle to the BSkyB deal, and letting his senior executives off the hook. That simply won’t wash,” Ms Stanistreet said.

Business Correspondent Siobhan Kennedy writes: “There is still much that is unknown at the moment. But one thing is clear. If Rupert Murdoch believed that killing off the News of the World would draw a line under the scandal, save his reputation and his coveted BSkyB deal, then that tactic appears to have backfired. It will also irk regulators and Jeremy Hunt alike to learn that he is planning to launch a Sunday version of the Sun newspaper, which News Corporation does not deny. So any credit he hoped to gain by axing the News of the World, would be destroyed in an instant.”

News International has declared that all proceeds from the sale of this Sunday’s final edition will go to charity.

I am satisifed that Rebekah, her leadership in this business, and her ethics and conduct throughout her career, are very good. James Murdoch

There is speculation that the News of the World title could be superseded by a “Sun on Sunday” replacement. The political blogger Guido Fawkes tweeted that the domain www.thesunonsunday.co.uk was registered two days ago. News International already owns the domain name www.sunday.co.uk.

The final edition of the 168-year-old tabloid will be edited by Colin Myler, who has edited the NoW since 2007.

In a message from Mr Myler sent to members of staff yesterday, now published on the News of the World website, he gives no indication that the paper is about to close.

His message concludes: “Please be assured that, as Editor, I will do everything in my power to restore the News of the World’s reputation for fair, accurate and, most mportantly, responsible journalism.

Chennai connection?
On Wednesday 6 July Labour MP Tom Watson said in the House of Commons there had been an attempt to destroy News International data at the HCL storage facility in Cheinnai, India.

In a statement in response, HCL Technologies confirmed that News International was an existing client and that they managed its IT infrastructure based on an IT outsourcing agreement signed in 2009.

The statement added: “This agreement is in line with other global customer contracts and accords with the IT processes, policies, guidelines and procedures clearly laid down by News International at the start of the partnership.

“In light of some regrettable comments made over the last few days, we categorically confirm that HCL Technologies does not and has not stored any data either in the UK or anywhere else in the world. Accordingly, it is wholly impossible for there to have been any destruction of data held by HCL, and any suggestion to the contrary is misleading.”

It stressed that the company “strongly adheres to, follows, and respects the data privacy of both our customers and of the respective authorities in the countries where we operate”.

“Over the past two months, we have been fully co-operating with the Metropolitan Police at the request of News International. Due to the ongoing investigations and client confidentiality, HCL Technologies cannot under any circumstances, go into further details on this matter at this stage.”

Six-year saga

Thursday’s announcement is the culmination of a story that began in November 2005, when the News of the World published a story about Prince William’s knee injury.

ITN Royal Correspondent Tom Bradby drew the Palace’s attention to the fact that this information was known only to a very small number of people, suggesting that the NoW report was based on information that had been obtained illegally.

In January 2007, NoW Royal Correspondent Clive Goodman was jailed for conspiracy to access phone messages. Private investigator Glenn Mulcaire was also jailed for six months.

In July 2009 the Guardian newspaper claimed NoW journalists had been involved in the hacking of up to 3,000 celebrities while Andy Coulson – by then Tory leader David Cameron’s communications chief – was editor of the paper.

The situation unravelled further when former News of the World journalist Sean Hoare told the New York Times the practice of phone hacking was widespread when he worked there. By early 2011 celebrities including Sienna Miller had initiated civil actions against NoW.

The scandal culminated in the first week of July 2011, when it was alleged the phones of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, the parents of the murdered Soham schoolchildren Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, the relatives of 7/7 victims, and the relatives of soldiers who had died in Afghanistan, had all been hacked.