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Murdoch pulls plug on London paper after phone hacking scandal

Photo by Jessica Reber

Photo by Jessica Reber

LONDON -- News International announced today it is shutting down the News of the World, the best-selling tabloid at the center of Britain's phone hacking scandal.

James Murdoch, who heads European operations for the paper's parent company, said the 168-year-old weekly newspaper would publish its last edition on Sunday, without ads.

The abrupt decision to shut the newspaper follows an extraordinary three days in which multiple revelations about intrusive phone hacking cost the paper its advertising base and reader support. The tabloid was found to have hacked into the phone message of a teenage murder victim and was suspected of possibly targeting the relatives of slain soldiers in its quest to produce attention-grabbing headlines.

Britons of all stripes said they were disgusted and revolted by the Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper's tactics and British lawmakers held an emergency debate on Parliament on Wednesday in which many condemned the paper.

The tabloid's executives had already admitted the widespread hacking of cell phones used by celebrities, film stars, royal aides and politicians and reached cash settlements with prominent victims. But the intrusion into -- and possible interference with -- an ongoing murder investigation of a child proved to be the final straw in losing the public's trust.

Police are now examining 4,000 names of people who may have been targeted by the paper.

Murdoch said in a memo to staff that all revenue from the final issue, which will carry no ads, would go to "good causes."

The announcement took British media-watchers -- and the newspaper's staff -- by surprise.

The News of the World, which sells close to 3 million copies a week, has acknowledged that it hacked into the mobile phone voice mails of politicians, celebrities and royal aides. A reporter and a private investigator working for the paper were jailed for phone hacking in 2007.

But in recent days the allegations have expanded to take in the phones of missing children who were found slain, the relatives of terrorist victims and families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

James Murdoch, Rupert's son, said if the allegations were true, "it was inhuman and has no place in our company."

"Wrongdoers turned a good newsroom bad," he said, "and this was not fully understood or adequately pursued."

"While we may never be able to make up for distress that has been caused, the right thing to do is for every penny of the circulation revenue we receive this weekend to go to organizations -- many of whom are long-term friends and partners -- that improve life in Britain and are devoted to treating others with dignity," he said.

News International spokeswoman Daisy Dunlop denied rumors that The Sun, the News of The World's sister paper that publishes Monday through Saturday, would become a seven-day operation to pick up the slack. Still, she seemed to leave room for further developments.

"It's not true at the moment," she said.

Shares in News Corp. were up 1.6 percent at $18.22 on the Nasdaq index in New York, though they have fallen from above $18.50 since Tuesday.