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News of the World last issue

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LONDON - Britain's News of the World hit newsstands for the last time Sunday after being closed amid the phone-hacking scandal, ending 168 years of scoops and scandal with the headline "Thank You and Goodbye."

In a full-page editorial, Britain's top-selling weekly newspaper apologized to readers for the long-running hacking controversy, saying: "Quite simply, we lost our way."

But the row is far from over, and as owner Rupert Murdoch headed to London to take personal charge of the crisis, it was reported that police would soon be questioning his top British executive, Rebekah Brooks.

And amid mounting criticism of the police's failure to fully investigate the hacking earlier, the senior officer who decided not to reopen the probe in 2009 expressed regret.

Late Saturday, News of the World editor Colin Myler led staff out of its 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 decision on Thursday to axe the paper, 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, he charted the paper's finest moments under the banner "World's Greatest Newspaper -- 1843-2011", from investigations by the "Fake Sheikh" to a controversial campaign against pedophiles.

But the editorial also admitted that for a few years up to 2006, some of its employees had fallen "shamefully short" of the standards it sought to uphold.

"Phones were hacked, and for that this newspaper is truly sorry," it said.

Despite public anger over the hacking, Britons were snapping up the final copy of the paper as a souvenir.

The usual print run was doubled to five million copies, and sales of first editions were brisk. "I sold 50 in the first five minutes," one vendor in central London told AFP.

Murdoch was due to arrive in Britain on Sunday, a source at his News Corp. said, to take charge of the crisis which has threatened to contaminate other parts of his media empire.

The British government is due to decide soon on News Corp.'s controversial bid to take full control of satellite broadcaster BSkyB, but opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband will reportedly try to hold a vote in parliament this week to suspend the deal.

The police failure to act earlier over the scandal has been strongly criticised and Scotland Yard assistant commissioner John Yates, who decided two years ago not to reopen the hacking probe due to a lack of evidence, expressed regret.

"We are extremely shocked by it and it is a matter of massive regret we didn't deal with it earlier," he told The Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

He admitted that the scandal had tainted the reputation of London's Metropolitan Police, saying it had been a "very damaging episode for us and we have got to work hard to rebuild the trust in the Met."

Murdoch may also need to step in to defend Brooks, the chief executive of his British newspaper division, News International.

The Sunday Telegraph reported that police wanted to question Brooks over what she knew about phone hacking and alleged illegal payments to police while she was editor of the News of the World from 2000 to 2003.

She has always denied wrongdoing and Murdoch has strongly backed her.

Her successor as editor, Andy Coulson, was arrested on Friday on suspicion of involvement in phone hacking and illegal police payments.

His arrest put pressure on Prime Minister David Cameron, who 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 revelations. After his arrest on Friday, he was bailed until October.

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. (Agence France Presse)

By Alice Ritchie




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