An apology, a resignation: hacking scandal reaches the top

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The storm over phone hacking finally caught up with the key players at News International yesterday as Rupert Murdoch made a face-to-face apology to the family of Milly Dowler and Rebekah Brooks was forced to resign as chief executive over the scandal.

News International also took the unprecedented and humiliating step of taking out full-page apologies, signed by Mr Murdoch, in rival newspapers across Fleet Street today.

The change in tack from denial to remorse at News Corp signals a new strategic approach from the company in trying to handle the escalating crisis.

Last night the world's most powerful media tycoon was said to have held his head in his hands as he offered an apology to the murdered teenager Milly Dowler's family for the hacking of her phone by the News of the World.

Following the meeting and flanked by the Dowlers, their lawyer Mark Lewis said: "He was humbled to give a full and sincere apology to the Dowler family.

"He apologised many times," Mr Lewis added. "I don't think anybody could have held their head in their hands so many times."

The meeting came just hours after Mrs Brooks' resignation was announced. The fatal blow for News International's chief executive – one of Mr Murdoch's most favoured lieutenants and the woman he called his "priority" just a week ago – seemed to come from the Saudi billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, News Corp's second biggest shareholder, who summoned the BBC on to his boat to tell them: "For sure she has to go. You bet she has to go."

Sources said it was inconceivable that Mr Alwaleed would have made such a statement without having first conferred with Mr Murdoch.

Having accepted Mrs Brooks' offer, the 80-year-old News Corp chairman leapt into action, authoring a humbling apology to be published in rival papers today. Under the headline "We're Sorry", it begged forgiveness for "serious wrongdoing" and promised "concrete steps" to "make amends for the damage". Written in the first person, it carried his signature.

Michael Wolff, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and Mr Murdoch's biographer, said: "This has obviously been the next stage of them dealing with this in a more concerted manner."

Last night it also emerged that the actor Jude Law will take legal action against The Sun over phone hacking.

The 38-year-old star said he would sue the publication over four articles published in 2005 and 2006.

News International called the action "deeply cynical" and "mischievous" and said it would be "defended vigorously".

The company behind the Daily Mail is launching a new Sunday paper following the NOTW closure. Meanwhile, extra copies of Trinity Mirror's Sunday newspapers will be printed to cash in on the tabloid's demise.