Murdoch apologizes to family of murdered girl

Rupert Murdoch (center) attempts to speak to the media after he held a meeting with the parents and sister of murdered school girl Milly Dowler in London, Friday, July 15, 2011. AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

Last Updated 2:30 p.m. ET

LONDON — Rupert Murdoch met with the family of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, whose phone was hacked by the now-defunct tabloid News of the World, and offered "a full and sincere apology," a lawyer for the family said.

Revelations that journalists had accessed Dowler's phone in search of information for news stories while her family and the police searched in vain for the missing girl - later found dead - inflamed the long-simmering phone hacking scandal involving Murdoch's News of the World, which was shut down last week.

Dowler family lawyer Mark Lewis said Murdoch appeared humbled and had offered "a heartfelt and what seemed to be a very sincere apology, telling them that the events that transpired at the tabloid were not in keeping with the standards set out when his own father entered the media industry.

"I don't think somebody could have held their head in their hands so many times and said that they were sorry," Lewis said.

The 80-year-old mogul emerged from the meeting at a London hotel to catcalls of "shame on you" from hecklers. He said that "as founder of the company I was appalled to find out what had happened and I apologized."

Murdoch's tone was dramatically different to that in an interview published Thursday in the Wall Street Journal, in which he said the company had made only "minor mistakes" and had handled the crisis "extremely well in every way possible."

Murdoch added that he was "getting annoyed" at all the negative headlines.

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The meeting came hours after Murdoch released a copy of an apology that will be printed this weekend in British newspapers.

The ad signed by Murdoch says News International is "deeply sorry for the hurt" caused to phone-hacking victims. It adds that, "we regret not acting faster to sort things out."

Above: Sally Dowler (left), Gemma Dowler and Bob Dowler walk from the One Aldwych Hotel as their attorney Mark Lewis (right) looks on, after meeting with News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, July 15, 2011 in London. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Also today, the head of Murdoch's British newspaper operation resigned, becoming the highest-ranking casualty yet in the phone-hacking scandal roiling Britain.

BBC News quotes Dowler attorney Lewis as calling the resignation of Rebekah Brooks - editor of the newspaper at the time - as "poetic justice."

Brooks, chief executive of Murdoch's embattled U.K. newspapers and his loyal lieutenant, resigned today. As she departed, Murdoch's son James signaled a new strategy for dealing with the storm that has knocked billions off the value of News Corp., scuttled its ambitions to take full control of lucrative British Sky Broadcasting, and radically changed the power balance between U.K. politicians and the feared Murdoch press.

A new chief executive untainted by the U.K. problems, Tom Mockridge, 55, was installed to replace Brooks at News International, the local unit of Rupert Murdoch's global News Corp. media empire. Mockridge, a New Zealander who has served as a spokesman for the Australian government, joined News Corp. in 1991 and has been in charge of Sky Italia since 2003.

The moves come after News Corp. brought in Edelman Communications to help with public relations and lobbying.

But with two U.K. police investigations running as well as an FBI review into the possible hacking of the phones of 9/11 victims, it remains far from clear what happened, what may yet be revealed or which of the proliferating allegations of wrongdoing circulating among Britain's papers is really true.

Murdoch had defended the 43-year-old Brooks in the face of demands from British politicians that she step down, and had previously refused to accept her resignation. He made an abrupt switch, however, as News Corp. struggled but failed to contain the crisis.

BNET: Murdoch Dumps Loyal Lieutenant — Next Step: Redemption!

Brooks was editor of the News of the World tabloid between 2000 and 2003, when the paper's employees allegedly hacked into the phone of 13-year-old murder victim Milly Dowler in 2002 as police searched for her, potentially interfering with the police investigation.

That report last week provoked outrage far beyond any previous revelations of snooping on celebrities, politicians and athletes. In quick succession, Murdoch closed the 168-year-old News of the World and abandoned his bid for full BSkyB ownership. Prime Minister David Cameron then appointed a judge to conduct a sweeping inquiry into criminal activity at the paper and in the British media.

Brooks said the debate over her position as CEO of News International — the British arm of News Corp. — was now too much of a distraction.

"I have believed that the right and responsible action has been to lead us through the heat of the crisis. However my desire to remain on the bridge has made me a focal point of the debate," Brooks said in an email Friday to colleagues that was released by News International. "This is now detracting attention from all our honest endeavors to fix the problems of the past."

Yet Brooks hinted last week that there was more to come.

"We have more visibility perhaps with what we can see coming our way than you guys can," she told staff at News of the World as they prepared their last edition.

"I am tied by the criminal investigation but I think in a year's time, every single one of you in this room might come up and say 'OK, well, I see what she saw now,"' she said, according to a recording obtained by Sky News.

The comments Friday by James Murdoch, who heads the international operations of the New York-based News Corp., were an abrupt shift in tone from an interview his father gave Thursday to The Wall Street Journal — another Murdoch paper. Rupert Murdoch had said that News Corp. management had handled the crisis "extremely well in every way possible" save for a few "minor mistakes."

Brooks has been in charge of News International's four — now three — British newspapers since 2007, following a four-year stint as editor of the market-leading daily tabloid, The Sun. Just a week ago, she faced 200 angry employees at the News of the World who had lost their jobs as she kept hers when Murdoch shut down the paper.

The news of her resignation was greeted with relief by British politicians.

"It is right that Rebekah Brooks has finally taken responsibility for the terrible events that happened on her watch, like the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone," said opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband. "No one in this country should exercise power without responsibility."

Cameron, who had called for Brooks to step down, said she had made "the right decision," said Steve Field, the prime minister's spokesman.

Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal Alsaud, the second-largest News Corp. stockholder, told the BBC on Thursday that if Brooks were found to be implicated in wrongdoing by the newspapers "for sure she has to go. "

Brooks has agreed to answer questions next week from a U.K. parliamentary committee. Rupert and James Murdoch initially resisted, but also agreed to appear after the committee issued formal summonses to them.

Being hauled before a hostile group of legislators marks a rapid change of fortune for the 80-year-old Murdoch, long accustomed to being courted by prime ministers and other politicians scared of provoking the wrath of his editors.

"Murdoch is like a beast or a god. He can attack you and destroy you or he can give you great power and glory," Lord Maurice Glasman said Friday in a House of Lords debate. "He was outside the constraints, outside of law. He makes and breaks kings."

British police have arrested seven people in their investigation of phone hacking, and two others in a parallel investigation of alleged bribery of police officers for information. Police say they have recovered a list of 3,700 names — regarded as potential victims — but so far have been in touch with fewer than 200 people.

News Corp. shares were down 1.3 percent at $15.78 in early New York trading.

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