London (CNN) — The last edition of the News of the World hit stands Sunday morning, as Britain’s best-selling newspaper shuts down in the face of a scandal over illegal eavesdropping and bribery that has outraged Britain and rattled the foundation of the nation’s political establishment.
Plastered with a montage of recent front pages across its cover, and with a reproduction of its 1843 first front page on the inside, the paper struck a wistful yet proud tone in its final editorial Sunday.
And it repeated its owner’s apology for the criminal activities that brought the 168-year-old paper down.
“Phones were hacked, and for that this newspaper is truly sorry,” it said in an unsigned piece. “There is no justification for this appalling wrongdoing.”
The paper welcomed Prime Minister David Cameron’s call for two different inquiries, one into how police investigated the allegations of phone hacking, and a separate one into the ethics and standards of British journalists.
Separately, police are already conducting their second investigation into the hacking itself.
Those ensnared in the related investigation include Andy Coulson, a former editor of the paper and an ex-communications director for Cameron. He and the paper’s former royal correspondent, Clive Goodman, as well as a 63-year-old man were all arrested Friday in connection with allegations of corruption.
Both Coulson and Goodman were released on bail late Friday. The third man, who was not named, was freed on bail Saturday morning. All three were ordered to report to police in October.
The scandal has prompted questions over the British prime minister’s judgment.
Cameron hired Coulson following the journalist’s resignation as editor of News of the World after Goodman and a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, were jailed in 2007 over hacking allegations.
Analysts say media magnate Rupert Murdoch will be eager to limit the damage to News Corporation’s bid to take over U.K. satellite broadcaster BSkyB, which has been placed in question by the allegations against News International.
British Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt will consider the impact of the News of the World’s closure as he reviews its bid for BSkyB, his office said Friday.
Staff of the scandal-hit paper emotionally departed their London newsroom for the last time Saturday night, proudly holding up the final edition of the tabloid.
Scores of the newspaper’s employees left their office around 10 p.m., issuing three cheers for their editor Colin Myler before heading out to a local pub. Many carried copies of the final edition, which featured a headline that read simply: “Thank you and goodbye.”
“I want to pay tribute to this wonderful team of people here,” said Myler, gesturing to his staff. “This is not where we wanted to be, or where we deserve to be.”
The paper’s roughly 200-member staff are now out of jobs, but have been told they can apply elsewhere within its parent company, News International — the main British subsidiary of News Corporation.
News of the World showbiz editor Dan Wootton posted on Twitter that 5 million copies were being printed Sunday, twice the usual circulation of 2.5 million.
Meanwhile, the Church of England, which owns shares worth about $6 million in Murdoch’s News Corporation empire, has put pressure on him to act over the scandal.
The church’s ethical investment committee has written to Murdoch, saying the “behaviour of the News of the World has been utterly reprehensible and unethical.”
The letter, part of which is posted on the church’s website, says that the closure of News of the World — while welcome — does not go far enough.
“We cannot imagine circumstances in which we would be satisfied with any outcome that does not hold senior executives to account at News Corporation for the gross failures of management at the News of the World,” the letter says.
According to audio leaked to the media, News International’s chief executive Rebekah Brooks said in a meeting with staff Friday that she was “determined to get vindication for this paper. And for people like you.”
But she also told staff that it had to be shut down because worse revelations about its activities were imminent, the U.K.’s Telegraph newspaper reported.
Brooks has come under increasing pressure to step down over the scandal, with Cameron saying Friday he would have accepted her reported offer to resign.
Police are also investigating evidence that a senior News International executive may have deleted millions of e-mails from an internal archive, according to legal sources cited by the Guardian newspaper.
News International Chairman James Murdoch, who is Rupert Murdoch’s son, said all revenue from the last edition would go to “good causes” and that free advertising space would be offered to charities.
However, the Institute of Fundraising, a membership body for fund-raisers, advised caution over accepting the offer in a statement on its website Friday.
And the paper itself said Sunday that “profits” — not “revenues” — would go to charity.
It listed three recipients: the children’s charity Barnardo’s, the Forces Children’s Trust, and “military projects at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham Charity.”
The decision to close the News of the World followed accusations that it illegally eavesdropped on the phone messages of murder and terrorist victims, politicians and celebrities, and claims it may have bribed police officers. Police said Thursday they had identified almost 4,000 potential targets of hacking.
Cameron defended his actions in hiring Coulson on Friday, saying, “The decision to hire him was mine, and mine alone.”
He said he had decided to give Coulson a second chance after receiving assurances that he had not been involved in wrongdoing at the newspaper. Coulson has denied knowing about phone hacking while he was editor from 2003 to 2007.
Downing Street on Saturday confirmed that Cameron has approached the United Kingdom’s judiciary to suggest names for the judge to lead the inquiry into the News of the World hacking claims.
News of the World was the first British national newspaper Rupert Murdoch bought, in 1969, as he began to propel himself from Australian newspaper proprietor to international media magnate.
In addition to owning News of the World, News International owns the Sun, the Times and the Sunday Times in Britain.
Murdoch’s News Corporation also encompasses Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and Harper Collins publishers.