The final edition: Defiant editor Myler leads his staff out for the last time

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The final headline was simple: Thank You and Goodbye. The farewell speech from the News of the World's editor was almost as short. After leading the entire editorial and production staff out of the offices at No 3 Thomas More Square just before 10pm, Colin Myler spoke for just a few minutes as he held the last front page, a patchwork of past splashes, aloft. Distribution lorries had been delayed to ensure the last edition arrived in his hands first. The mood as night fell was bullish, the sentiment repeated throughout this final press day was that none of those clearing their desks had played a part in the title's downfall.

"I want to pay tribute to a wonderful team here, it's not where we wanted to be nor where we deserved to be," said Mr Myler. "It has been a difficult day but we have produced a wonderful newspaper as a final tribute to our seven and a half million readers – and to the staff."

Asked afterwards whether he thought the newspaper had needed to close to resolve the crisis, he said: "I've said what I'm going to say and now we are all going to the pub and have a drink. Or three."

The staff, who had spent their last evening in the offices with a pizza dinner and tweeting photos of themselves shutting down, lined up behind him, some with tears streaming down their cheeks. They saluted Mr Myler's name and that of the paper with the traditional three cheers in front of television cameras. Then, they turned, almost en masse, towards The Cape, a pub too small to cater for them all. Spilling to benches outside, the mood was mixed, clinking glasses from those intent on one last blow-out and others subdued and nursing their pints. Showbusiness editor Dan Wootton, who was one of the most defiant about the paper's record, said: "We have shown over the last 48 hours that we are a proud, accomplished team of journalists... and the response from the public I've found has been fantastic. There is a small vocal minority against us but I think there are readers who are devastated. We are."

Political editor David Wooding compared the moment with the break up of The Beatles and the closure of Woolworths. The editorial comment on page three, however, dealt with the subject that Mr Myler did not mention on the steps: the hacking that led to closure. "Quite simply we lost our way," it read. "Phones were hacked and for that this newspaper is truly sorry. There is no justification for this appalling wrong-doing, no justification for the pain caused to victims nor for the deep stain it has left on a great history. Yet when this has been atoned, we hope history will judge us on all our years."

Earlier, reporters had arrived to find that 30 framed front pages, past and recent triumphs that had greeted them every day in the newspaper's entrance, had disappeared. No one knew if they had been looted as souvenirs or hidden away by security staff in a pre-emptive strike.

In the last morning conference, Mr Myler told his staff to "make us proud". Some had dressed in black. One wore a T-shirt with the slogan "Goodbye, cruel News of the World, I'm leaving you today". Showbiz journalist Halina Watts, an honourable exception, tweeted: "Putting on my brightest, nicest frock for last day at work."

Speaking from the newspaper floor, TV critic Tom Latchem said: "The atmosphere is weird. It's quite jovial, but also quite sad."

The sombre mood morphed into hurried activity on both sides of the second-floor editorial office as writers, editors and production staff rushed to rise to the occasion – the historic rivalry between features and news energising the paper's two most important departments.

A security guard assigned to the newsroom last Thursday "in case of a lynch mob" stood sheepishly by the lift after reporters made it clear his presence was neither welcome nor necessary.

While some blitzed keyboards mindful of the 6pm deadline for the first edition, others busied themselves with final expenses claims and emailing contacts. As the afternoon wore on, five female NOTW journalists brought refreshments to the reporters from rival papers waiting outside, carrying trays of biscuits and tea in mugs bearing the red NOTW masthead.

Helen Moss, a news and features subeditor, said. "Every single one of us working up there today is very proud of working for the News of the World... and we go out with heads held high."

Later in the afternoon the entire London staff posed for a photograph which they broadcast via Twitter.

Ian Kirby, the political editor, who spent much of the day writing a history of previous NOTW campaigns and investigations for today's edition, said: "Everyone's crashing out copy. A lot of people just want to get out of here: everyone is exhausted."

As the final hours approached, desk secretaries were dispatched with £450 to buy booze ready for the moment the paper was "off stone".

Despite the anticipated arrival of the police yesterday evening, staff defiantly packed the notebooks they had been told to leave for investigators. One reporter was blunt: "They've told us to leave our notepads but they can fuck off; I haven't done anything wrong."

As the distraction of work subsided, emotion caught up with many. A veteran with 13 years on the paper was seen hugging another in floods of tears in the middle of the newsroom floor.

Tom Latchem, as he predicted, was upset. His voice cracked as he spoke: "I'm already half-crying now... Never have the careers of so many been damaged by the actions of so few."

When the final pages had been sent to the paper's presses, Mr Myler gathered his staff and led them out of the building for the last time. Most headed to the pub, where former colleagues had gathered to give them a send off.

There had been days of mourning, there would be more. But, for now, they would console themselves with one hell of a wake.

What they said...

Rebekah Brooks, Chief executive, News International

"Phone-hacking is not continuing at the 'News of the World'. Also, for the avoidance of doubt, I should add that we have no reason to believe that any phone-hacking occurred at any other of our titles."

Colin Myler, NOTW Editor

"Who could have imagined this time last week that we would be putting out the last edition of this great newspaper after 168 years?"

Andy Coulson, Former NOTW Editor

"I think this is a very sad day for the 'News of the World'. More importantly, for the staff who, in my mind, are brilliant, professional people, and I really feel for them."

Alan Edwards, Chief subeditor

"It's a bunch of hard working, talented, honest, decent journalists up there, who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own."

Dan Wootton, Showbiz editor

"Devastated to be spending the last day with my amazing colleagues at 'NOTW' who took the rap for something that has nothing to do with us."

David Wooding, Political editor

"It's hard to believe we were working for what we thought was the most secure brand of all. Never have the careers of so many been damaged by the actions of so few."

Helen Moss, News and features subeditor

"It's been very emotional but we're all massive professionals and we've held it together and we're working damn hard to get the paper out."

Hayley Barlow, PR manager

"Today is not about bitterness or anger. Of course there is huge sadness, but above all there is an overwhelming sense of pride."

Francesca Packer, Subeditor

"We're just hard working professionals and we're getting on with the job."

Jamie Lyons, Deputy political editor

"People here would like to pay tribute to Colin Myler, who has shown incredible dignity and integrity throughout all of this."