THE chief executive of News International has told staff of The News of the World further revelations of criminality were coming and they would understand in time why publication of the tabloid had to cease.
And it was reported today News Corporation chairman and chief executive officer Rupert Murdoch is travelling to London in the wake of arrests from the scandal.
Andy Coulson, the Prime Minister’s friend and former spin doctor, was arrested and questioned for eight hours yesterday over allegations of corrupting police officers and hacking telephones while he was editor of the News of the World.
Mr Coulson, 43, was fingerprinted and DNA-tested before being interviewed by detectives investigating a scandal spreading by the day and has led to the closure of the country’s best selling Sunday newspaper.
Leaving Lewisham police station last night after being released on bail until October, Mr Coulson said: “There’s an awful lot I would like to say but I can’t at this time.”
As his former press spokesman faced the police, David Cameron was facing the press.
The Prime Minister was forced repeatedly to defend his personal judgment in hiring Mr Coulson in 2007, just months after he quit the News of the World because of the phone-hacking issue.
Mr Cameron said he had discussed the hacking affair with Mr Coulson, who denies any wrongdoing, but never had reason to doubt “the assurances he had given me and I accepted”.
The Prime Minister said it was his decision, and his alone, to give Mr Coulson “a second chance”.
In another day of dramatic developments Clive Goodman, 53, the former royal editor at the News of the World, who has already been jailed for hacking telephone voicemails, was also arrested. A third man, a 63-year-old, was arrested late yesterday.
Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International, told staff the newspaper was “toxic”, further revelations of criminality were coming and they would understand in time why the company had to cease publication of News of the World.
The Prime Minister sought to regain the initiative in the fast-moving crisis by distancing himself from News International and admitting politicians had become too cosy with the Fleet Street barons.
Mr Cameron said: “The truth is, we have all been in this together – the press, politicians and leaders of all parties – and yes, that includes me.”
He said Mrs Brooks should no longer be in her job. Referring to reports that she had offered her resignation, he said: “In this situation I would have taken it.”
The Prime Minister maintained James Murdoch, News Corporation deputy chief operating officer and chairman and CEO, international, also had questions to answer about his role in authorising payments to hacking victims after the News Corp chief’s admission he had approved out-of-court settlements without having all the facts.
But Mr Cameron was dragged back time and again to the question of his decision to hire Mr Coulson as his chief spokesman.
The former editor resigned as Downing Street spokesman in January as allegations over the scale and extent of phone hacking during his years at the newspaper became clear.
The Prime Minister said he had been in contact with Mr Coulson since his resignation and was happy to count him as a friend.
“I have spoken to him, I have seen him, not recently and not frequently. But when you work with someone for four years, as I did, and you work closely, you do build a friendship and I became friends with him. He became a friend and is a friend.”
At the newspaper’s offices in Wapping, East London, Mrs Brooks called staff to a meeting to explain the newspaper had become “toxic”.
Advertisers had deserted it in the wake of revelations journalists had hacked the phones of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, the families of the Soham murder victims, relatives of the July 7 bombing victims and the families of soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq.
She told staff, many of whom face redundancy: “You may be angry with me, I understand that. But I’m angry at people who did this and feel betrayed.”
Sources inside the meeting say she told them she had “visibility” about further revelations relating to criminal activity. She added: “In a year you will understand why we made this decision.”
Later, in a statement, Mrs Brooks said News International, which also publishes The Times, welcomed the proposed public inquiries into phone hacking and press ethics.
News International is part of News Corp, which also owns The Australian.
After his arrest, carried out by appointment, Scotland Yard detectives seized computers and documents from Mr Coulson’s home. Both he and Mr Goodman will be expected to return for further questions.
After 168 years of publishing, the final edition of the News of the World, will come out tomorrow, with News International planning to print five million copies.