Murdoch apologises to victims as two aides quit

16th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Two of Rupert Murdoch's top executives quit Friday, as the media baron apologised to the family of a murdered girl at the heart of the phone-hacking row in a bid to defuse the crisis engulfing his empire.

The Australian-born tycoon finally abandoned his attempts to protect Rebekah Brooks, a former editor of the scandal-hit News of the World, and accepted her resignation as chief executive of his British newspaper unit, News International.

Just hours later, Les Hinton, who was chairman of News International when the phone hacking is alleged to have taken place, resigned as chief executive of Murdoch's Dow Jones unit.

Murdoch is publishing a humbling advertisement in British papers Saturday apologising to the victims of the scandal and admitting that the News of the World was guilty of "serious wrongdoing".

In a further show of contrition, he met the parents of murdered teenager Milly Dowler, whose phone was allegedly hacked by the News of the World -- the claim that sparked the crisis and led to the closure of the paper.

"As founder of the company I was appalled to find out what had happened and I apologised," Murdoch told a scrum of reporters afterwards.

But the 80-year-old, whose papers once helped decide British elections, faced chants of "Shame on you" from protesters.

And the scandal continued to spiral, with the news that British actor Jude Law is suing The Sun over phone hacking in 2005 and 2006, when Brooks was editor, in the first such claim against the Murdoch-owned daily.

News International dismissed the claims as a "deeply cynical and deliberately mischievous attempt to draw The Sun into the phone-hacking issue." Law is already suing the now defunct News of the World.

The departures of Brooks and Hinton capped a disastrous week for Murdoch in which he was forced to shut the 168-year-old News of the World, the foundation stone of his British empire, and scrap a buy-out of British pay-TV giant BSkyB.

Brooks denies any wrongdoing, but as editor of the tabloid from 2000-2003, at the time when Dowler's phone was allegedly hacked, she became a lightning rod for public and political anger.

The 43-year-old -- who started out as a secretary at the tabloid and is viewed almost like a daughter by Murdoch -- told News International staff she felt a "deep sense of responsibility for the people we have hurt".

"My desire to remain on the bridge has made me a focal point of the debate. This is now detracting attention from all our honest endeavours to fix the problems of the past," she wrote in an internal email.

Brooks will be replaced by New Zealander Tom Mockridge, the chief executive of Murdoch-owned satellite broadcaster Sky Italia.

Across the Atlantic, Hinton insisted he did not know about alleged phone hacking when he was chairman of News International from 1995 to 2007, but said he must take responsibility for the "unimaginable" pain it caused.

"That I was ignorant of what apparently happened is irrelevant and in the circumstances I feel it is proper for me to resign from News Corp. and apologise to those hurt by the actions of News of the World."

News International meanwhile has said would publish an apology in seven British national newspapers on Saturday, headed with the words "We are sorry", and bearing Murdoch's signature.

"We are sorry for the serious wrongdoing that occurred. We are deeply sorry for the hurt suffered by the individuals affected," it says.

Murdoch and his son James, the chairman of News International and deputy chief operating officer of parent company News Corp., will on Tuesday be quizzed by a committee of British lawmakers. Brooks will also testify.

The phone hacking scandal has extended far beyond Murdoch's empire, however, drawing in Prime Minister David Cameron, politicians and the police, and raising concerns over the workings of power in Britain.

Cameron welcomed Brooks' resignation but he remains under pressure for his friendship with her and his employment of her News of the World successor Andy Coulson as his former media chief.

It emerged Friday that Cameron entertained Coulson privately at Chequers, his country residence, in March, some two months after Coulson quit the post.

Coulson is among nine people who have been arrested over the scandal since police reopened their investigations in January. The latest was Neil Wallis, a former deputy editor of the News of the World under Coulson.

The scandal has also embroiled the police with the revelation that Wallis had been hired by Scotland Yard Chief Paul Stephenson, prompting calls on Friday for the commissioner to quit.

Meanwhile in the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation launched an investigation in allegations that News Corp. employees may have targeted the phone records of victims of the September 11 attacks.

© 2011 AFP

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