Murdoch in Britain as News of the World prints last edition

LONDON, July 10, 2011 (AFP) - Media baron Rupert Murdoch flew into London on Sunday to take personal charge of the phone-hacking scandal that felled his News of the World tabloid, as Britons rushed to buy the final edition of the paper.

Reading a copy of the last edition of Britain's biggest-selling weekly, Murdoch was whisked into the headquarters of publisher News International, which produced News of the World, in a chauffeur driven car.

AFP - Police officers stand outside the News International offices in east London on July 10, 2011, as police inquiries continue into the News of the World phone hacking scandal.

The 80-year-old flew in from the United States amid a growing crisis in his media empire after a slew of new hacking allegations emerged this week which sparked national outrage and prompted the shock decision to axe the paper.

The scandal has intensified pressure on the bid by his News Corp. media empire to take full control of satellite broadcaster BSkyB, and there were fresh calls for a delay to the proposed deal as Murdoch arrived.

The News of the World hit the newsstands for the last time Sunday, ending 168 years of scoops and scandal with the headline "Thank You and Goodbye" and an apology for having "lost our way".

Staff gathered outside the building in an emotional scene, at which editor Colin Myler paid tribute to a "wonderful team of people".

But the closure of the paper looked unlikely to end the hacking row, and as Murdoch arrived in London there was fresh pressure for a postponement to the BSkyB takeover.

Opposition Labour party leader Ed Miliband said the the public would not accept that a group which engaged in "terrible practices" be allowed to take over BSkyB while a police investigation was still ongoing.

He threatened to force a vote in parliament on suspending consideration of the proposed takeover until the criminal probe into hacking is complete.

The deal must be delayed following the "disgusting revelations" about the "terrible practices" at the News of the World, he said.

The idea that News Corp. "should be allowed to take over BSkyB, to get that 100 percent stake, without the criminal investigation having been completed... frankly that just won't wash with the public," he told BBC television.

News Corp's bid to buy the 61 percent of BSkyB that it did not already own originally looked set to go through in the coming days, but the government has now suggested that it could be delayed for several months amid the furore.

Late Saturday, Myler led staff out of the News of World's offices in Wapping, east London, after an emotional day preparing the final edition.

"I want to pay tribute to this wonderful team of people here, who, after a really difficult day, have produced in a brilliantly professional way a wonderful newspaper," Myler told reporters outside.

More than 200 staff now face an uncertain future after Murdoch's shock and while Myler's comments sparked cheers, some people were in tears.

He held up the final front page, a montage of some of the paper's best-known splashes and a message saying: "After 168 years, we finally say a sad but very proud farewell to our 7.5 million loyal readers."

Inside, the paper charted its finest moments under the banner "World's Greatest Newspaper -- 1843-2011", from investigations by the "Fake Sheikh" to a controversial campaign against paedophiles.

Stocks of the paper were running low at newspaper kiosks on Sunday, despite the final print run having been increased to five million copies to cope with demand, as Britons rushed to buy a souvenir copy.

"I think it's a bit of a shame since it has been around many, many years and it's part of British culture but they were wrong for what they were doing," Shareen Geral, a 26-year-old make-up artist told AFP as she picked up a copy at a London kiosk.

The "Screws", as the News of the World is affectionately known, made its name with sensational scoops about sex, crime and celebrities.

But it has been dogged by allegations of phone hacking for years and claims this week that a murdered girl and the families of dead soldiers were targeted turned the row into a national scandal.

The dramatic events of the past week have intensified pressure on Cameron, particularly the arrest on Friday of his ex-media chief Andy Coulson, who edited the News of the World from 2003 to 2007 before working for the prime minister.

The 43-year-old was detained on suspicion of involvement in phone hacking and illegal police payments and has been released on bail until October.

Cameron employed Coulson after he quit the News of the World in 2007, following the jailing of one of the paper's journalists and a private investigator over hacking.

Coulson has always denied wrongdoing, but he was forced to resign as Cameron's director of communications in January this year because of ongoing hacking revelations.

Rebekah Brooks, the head of News International and a former editor of the News of the World, has also faced calls to quit but Murdoch has given her his full support.

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