LONDON // Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of Rupert Murdoch's newspaper empire in Britain, resigned yesterday to become the latest casualty of the News of the World phone hacking scandal.
Her resignation was deplored by Mr Murdoch and his son James, who heads News Corp's interests in Europe and Asia, but was warmly welcomed by politicians and victims of the phone hacking, who had repeatedly called for her head.
The only surprise to many was that Mrs Brooks, 43, who edited the News of the World until 2003 and later became chief executive of News International, had managed to survive for so long.
She was in charge of the Sunday tabloid, which closed on Sunday, in 2002 when the phone was hacked of 13-year-old Milly Dowler, an abducted schoolgirl whose body was found six months later. It was this disclosure by The Guardian newspaper early last week that turned the five-year-old hacking controversy into one of public and political outrage.
Mr Murdoch met with the Dowler family yesterday, issuing a sincere apology, the lawyer for the Milly Dowler's family said. Mark Lewis said the media baron called the private meeting and apologised "many times".
Although Mr Murdoch stuck by Mrs Brooks in the face of calls for her resignation, including her close friend, prime minister David Cameron, the escalating crisis enveloping News Corp finally forced her out yesterday.
The problems for the media mogul are no longer confined to the UK, with the FBI confirming that it has been investigating the possible hacking by News Corp journalists of the victims of the September 11 attacks.
Senators and congressmen from both political parties have also demanded to know if allegations that News International reporters had given bribes to police officers in Britain violate US anti-corruption laws.
Developments in the US have come at the end of a tumultuous week for News Corp when it not only felt obliged to shut down the News of the World, but also had to abandon Mr Murdoch's cherished dream of buying the whole of BSkyB, Britain's biggest moneymaking satellite broadcaster.
In a message announcing her resignation to staff yesterday, Mrs Brooks said: "The reputation of the company we love so much, as well as the press freedoms we value so highly, are all at risk.
"As chief executive of the company, I feel a deep sense of responsibility for the people we have hurt and I want to reiterate how sorry I am for what we now know to have taken place."
News International later announced that Tom Mockridge, CEO of News Corp's European TV operations outside the UK, would be replacing Mrs Brooks.
James Murdoch said in a statement: "Earlier today, Rebekah Brooks resigned from her position as CEO. I understand her decision and I want to thank her for her 22 years of service to the company.
"She has been one of the outstanding editors of her generation and she can be proud of many accomplishments as an executive. We support her as she takes this step to clear her name."
Mr Cameron welcomed the resignation as "the right decision", according to a spokesman, while Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, said: "I think she should have gone straightaway. That would have been the right thing to do. I'm afraid again it looks like an organisation that has not really woken up or understood what happened and the anger people feel."
James Murdoch said yesterday News Corp would run advertisements in all of Britain's national papers this week to "apologise to the nation for what has happened".
"We will follow this up in the future with communications about the actions we have taken to address the wrongdoing that occurred," said James Murdoch.
He said News Corp had set up an independent management and standards committee to establish and enforce clear standards of operation.
That was an about face in tone from a defiant Rupert Murdoch, who in interview with the News Corp-owned Wall Street Journal on Thursday, said he would challenge the "total lies" that have been made against his newspapers when he appears before a parliamentary committee in London on Tuesday.
Mr Murdoch, who originally refused to attend the hearing, but changed his mind after being issued with a House of Commons summons, said: "We think it's important to absolutely establish our integrity in the eyes of the public ... I felt that it's best just to be as transparent as possible."
He insisted that News Corp had handled the phone hacking crisis "extremely well in every possible way" and had made just "minor mistakes".