The News of the World bid farewell to the nation’s newsstands today as it was published for the last time with the headline “Thank You and Goodbye” following a public outcry over allegations of widespread phone hacking.
The print run of the country’s best-selling weekly was doubled to five million copies which according to early reports were flying off the shelves as people rushed to buy copies as souvenirs.
One newsagent in the inner London district of Camberwell said: “My God, I am selling twice as many copies than usual. Normally I sell about 80 or 90 but today I will sell 160 or more. People are buying two, three even seven copies.”
Much of the edition was dedicated to the high points of the paper’s history, insisting it had been a force for good. “We have saved children from paedos and nailed 250 evil crooks,” it wrote.
But in a full-page editorial, the paper apologised to readers for the scandal that led to its closure, saying: “Quite simply, we lost our way. Phones were hacked and for that this newspaper is truly sorry.
“There is no justification for this appalling wrongdoing. No justification for the pain caused to victims, nor for the deep stain it has left on a great history.”
By the time the end came the hunters of Fleet Street had become the hunted. On Saturday night, as the final changes were being made to the final edition, the world’s media gathered outside the News of the World’s Wapping offices. By early evening, a phalanx of photographers and video cameras lined the street outside News International’s temporary headquarters, representing major domestic news organisations as well as international groups such as CNN and Al Jazeera.
Shortly after 7pm, clusters of News of the World journalists gathered in the Cape bar, adjacent to their offices, before heading back for a farewell meeting. The atmosphere was sombre, and most were reluctant to speak. “This says it all, doesn’t it,” said one female journalist, pointing to a face pink from tears.
The closure of the 168-year old newspaper – which sold more than 2.8m copies each week and built its reputation on exposing sex scandals and populist campaigns – is the most tangible sign yet of the pressure Rupert Murdoch’s media empire has come under since renewed revelations about the newspaper’s role in an illegal phone hacking scandal dating back to 2002.
A reporter who did talk, however, described the staff’s continuing shock at the abrupt decision to close the paper, and anger towards Rebekah Brooks, News International chief executive, who infuriated staff by attempting to “paint herself as some sort of victim” – despite a widespread sense that they had been sacrificed to save her career. Ms Brooks was editor of the News of the World between 2000 and 2003.
Some were outraged, he said, by News International’s decision to deploy extra security guards in the building on Saturday. “The staff were incredibly insulted by it ... We’ve been made to feel criminalised,” he said.
Despite this, the 200 staff said they had put their anger aside to carry out their final day’s work with professionalism. It was only on Thursday that the closure was announced. Some struggled to control their emotions, with one journalist later describing how a colleague had “completely broken down – literally doubled over with grief ... people had to help him back up”.
At 9.15pm, shortly after the first and only edition of the day was completed, Colin Myler, editor, mounted a desk to give a speech thanking his team for their work.
Outside, two protesters demonstrated against News International’s treatment of its employees. “My mum and dad used to take the News of the World in the 1950s ... but now I tend to read the Morning Star,” said David Norman, a 71-year-old from Tottenham, North London, gesturing to a copy of the leftwing newspaper.
The staff emerged at 9.45pm to a burst of camera flashes, as Mr Myler held up a copy of the 8,674th and final front page of the newspaper. Featuring a montage of previous covers, it bore the message: “Thank you and goodbye.”
In a few quiet words, Mr Myler paid tribute to his journalists, who responded with applause and loud cheers. There were no boxes of belongings in sight, most employees having already cleared their desks over the preceding two days. “We wanted to go out with dignity – we didn’t want to be like Lehman Brothers,” one said.
Proceeds from edition will be donated to three charities – Barnardo’s, the Forces Children’s Trust and military projects at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham Charity.
The paper also dedicated space to defending the Press Complaints Commission, the industry’s self-regulatory body, saying: “We do not agree that the Press Complaints Commission should be disbanded. Self-regulation does work. But the current make-up of the PCC doesn’t.”
“It needs more powers and resources. We do not need government legislation. That would be a disaster for democracy and for a free press.”
The PCC was described on Friday by David Cameron as a having “failed” and lacking in public confidence. Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour party called it a “toothless poodle”.
Ivan Lewis, the shadow culture secretary, said: “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 e-mails, is preserved to enable a serious inquiry into these serious allegations to take place.”