Hacked to death: ‘Newspaper sacrified to save one woman’
Journalists at the News of the World newspaper raged today that they had been betrayed by Rebekah Brooks, News International's chief executive, who faces calls for her resignation, after revelations that the NOTW under her editorship hacked the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
"Murdoch has sacrificed a newspaper to save one woman," said one member of the newsroom.
When staff saw Rebekah Brooks standing outside their editor's office waiting to address them yesterday afternoon they assumed that, as Andy Coulson had done four years ago, she was about to announce her resignation.
Instead, after five minutes of preamble – in which she is said to have got the age of the paper wrong – she told them they were the ones who would be losing their jobs. Some started crying. "Everyone else was like a zombie," said one member of staff who was there. "The anger came later."
Ms Brooks then said she had been asked to read out a statement by the company's chairman, James Murdoch – but that she thought, in the circumstances, it was best to leave it. She retreated to her office, promising to come back later to answer questions.
It was left to the paper's current editor, Colin Myler – in tears himself – to try to explain the ramifications of the decision to close the 168-year-old paper, the news of which he had only just found out himself. Ms Brooks did not return and was reportedly later escorted from the building by security staff. "The only thing I care about is you," Mr Myler told them after Ms Brooks had left. "You are blameless for what has happened."
One member of the staff who was at the meeting said: "We got a call to come to the editor's office and saw Rebekah with Colin. The last time we were there, it was with Andy when he announced he was resigning, so we just assumed she was going. Then she started talking about how good the News of the World was. It was five or 10 minutes before she told us the paper was closing. To be honest I can't really remember what she said before then. It's all a blur now."
But what he could remember was that, contrary to reports on Sky News, she was not crying. "She did wipe her eyes at one stage – but she wasn't crying. Not like Colin. He was crying his eyes out. He said all he cared about was us and, to be honest, I believe him. Not like her. Murdoch has sacrificed a newspaper to save one woman."
After the news, reporters were left to go back to their desks and absorb the news. They still have one last paper to bring out this Sunday.
At another meeting later in the afternoon with Mr Myler and a representative from News International's human resources department, the staff were told they would get 90 days' pay and then redundancy. They were told there were "limited opportunities" for jobs in other parts of the company. "Someone asked if we should come in after Monday," said one. "We were told there wasn't much point in that."
Staff afterwards pointed out that 90 per cent of the current staff at the paper were not there at the time of the hacking allegations – unlike Ms Brooks – and as the afternoon wore on, shock was replaced by deep and vitriolic anger. "We've heard a lot about disgusting behaviour here in recent days," said one. "This is another example." Another said: "Those of us who lose our jobs will be out for revenge. And Murdoch and Brooks should know better than most that we're very good at getting it." But contrary to some reports, it was not a "lynch mob mentality". "That's just being put out by the company to discredit us still further."
Two members of staff were prepared to speak publicly. The paper's chief political editor, David Wooding, said: "Decent and hard-working journalists are carrying the can for the sins of the previous regime. We knew we were in a bad place but we never expected a bombshell as big as this."
Asked to describe staff reaction to the announcement, Jules Stenson, head of features, said: "Profound disappointment rather than anger. Clearly no one among the current staff condones what's gone on in the past; they share everyone's collective horror about what has been reported this week."
Staff at the The Times, part of the same News International stable, discovered the news only after reading to the very bottom of a 1,000-word email sent by James Murdoch. One member of staff said: "It took a few minutes for everyone to read through the statement. There was a 'fucking hell' from the first person who read it."
Shortly afterwards, the newsroom was addressed by the paper's editor, James Harding, who told them he had only just found out himself. He said the only way to respond to the situation was with journalism that makes its readers proud and lives up to its historical standards. And with that he retreated into his office.
It was a day of dramatic developments in the phone-hacking scandal. These include:
* Mr Coulson, David Cameron's former director of communications, is expected to be arrested and questioned over what he knew about phone hacking at the NOTW under his editorship;
* James Murdoch denied perverting the course of justice by authorising payments to hacking victims;
* The British Government's decision on News Corp's proposed takeover of BSkyB is expected to be delayed once the consultation period closes later today;
* The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, signalled he will call for the Press Complaints Commission to be scrapped and replaced after failing to stop the hacking, labelling it a "toothless poodle";
* Major advertisers continued their exodus from the Sunday red-top, with Sainsbury's, Asda, O2, Boots, Specsavers, Dixons and npower joining companies such as Ford ;
* The Royal British Legion cut its ties with the paper over allegations that it hacked the phones of families of soldiers killed in Iraq.
It is understood Ms Brooks had discussed resigning with James Murdoch but that she did not make an offer to do so.
The final paper, which News International has decided will feature no advertising, will carry a large apology on its front page. The title – which once sold eight million copies a week – was sacrificed as Rupert Murdoch sought to stop the toxic publicity it has attracted.
James Murdoch said: "Wrongdoers turned a good newsroom bad and this was not fully understood or adequately pursued. 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 will prove that this was untrue and those who acted wrongly will have to face the consequences." He also admitted that the NOTW had given misleading evidence to MPs, saying: "The paper made statements to Parliament without being in the full possession of the facts. This was wrong."
Ms Brooks and James Murdoch are in charge of News International's operations at its headquarters in Wapping, east London, and both have been criticised heavily for their failure to uncover the extent of phone hacking.
Rupert Murdoch has a history of closing newspapers in Britain, having shut down Today, the last national title to fold, in 1996. News International confirmed yesterday that 200 members of staff would be invited to seek jobs elsewhere in the organisation.
In the NOTW newsroom, journalists saw the story flash up on television screens. Animosity was directed towards senior executives, with one member of staff describing Ms Brooks' role in the affair as "morally repugnant".
Mr Myler, who was appointed editor in 2007, with a brief to clean up the paper's reputation, reacted angrily to Ms Brooks' invitation for him to address staff. "I will say some words to my staff after you've gone," he is said to have told her.
Rumours were circulating last night that News Corp was planning to return to the Sunday tabloid market by launching The Sun as a Sunday newspaper and that Mr Murdoch had seized an opportunity to be rid of what had become a damaging brand, as well as making cost savings and improving efficiency. The name "Sun on Sunday" has been registered this week along with the domain name thesunonsunday. co.uk, observers noted.
Critics of News International's handling of the phone-hacking inquiry, including Lord Prescott and the Labour MP Tom Watson, were quick to dismiss the closure of the News of the World as a rebranding exercise, which would not draw a line under the affair.
Mr Watson said: "Rupert Murdoch did not close the News of the World. It [was closed by the] revulsion of families up and down the land. It was going to lose all its readers and it had no advertisers left. They had no choice."
By Oliver Wright, Jerome Taylor, and Kevin Rawlinson, Ian Burrell, Martin Hickman, Cahal Milmo and Oliver Wright