British media shocked by demise of crisis-hit giant

LONDON, July 8, 2011 (AFP) - Britain's press on Friday mourned the passing of scandal-hit comrade the News of the World, but long-term foes were at a loss to explain Rupert Murdoch's "baffling and perverse" decision to shut the paper.

News International stablemate The Times led the eulogy and was joined by most of Fleet Street in condemning the "handful of people" who felled the 168-year-old giant after they hacked into the phones of high-profile figures.

Journalists wait as a car leaves News International's office in London, on July 7, 2011, as Rupert Murdoch decided to close News of the World after it was engulfed in a phone hacking scandal.

"Yesterday a little bit of England died, and it is a moment to mourn," the Times said in its editorial. "At their best they produced great stories, and sometimes exposed great wrongs."

The News of the World was beset by phone-hacking claims after one of its journalists and a private investigator were jailed in 2007 when it was found they had intercepted messages sent to members of the royal household.

The extraordinary decision to pull the plug came at the end of week in which it was revealed that the paper also targeted the relatives of war dead, murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler and possibly victims of the London bombings.

"A handful of people have trampled upon others in grief and despair," continued the Times. "They have shamed themselves, destroyed a newspaper and damaged trust in the free press."

The Daily Mail ran with the front-page headline "The Paper that Died of Shame", and bemoaned the "downfall of a fine British institution" while the Daily Telegraph opted for "Goodbye, cruel World" on its front page.

News International tabloid The Sun, which is reported to be producing a new Sunday edition to replace its stricken sister paper, carried the story on its front page for the first time, but still refrained from editorial comment.

The News of the World was the scourge of misbehaving public figures during its long history, and thrived on feeding Britain's insatiable appetite for tittle-tattle and racy scandal.

However, few tears will have been shed at the Guardian -- the country's leading left-leaning paper -- which alone continued to keep the story high on its news agenda after the original revelations broke.

Any jubilation at helping to snare its ideological rival -- the publication broke the Dowler revelations on Tuesday -- was masked by suspicion over the true reasons for Murdoch's monumental decision.

"It's baffling," said editor Alan Rusbridger. "No-one called for the News of the World to be closed, it seems perverse."

The paper's editorial added: "That Rupert Murdoch is ruthless is a universally acknowledged truth.

"But his action in killing off the 168-year-old News of the World was one of the most clinical moves in his long, tumultuous career. Some would go further and say that it was one of his most cynical," it added.

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