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By Paul Thomasch and Yinka Adegoke

NEW YORK, July 15 (Reuters) – Les Hinton, the top executive of Rupert Murdoch’s Dow Jones & Co, resigned on Friday after becoming a target of criticism for the phone-hacking scandal that occurred when he oversaw News Corp’s British newspapers.

Hinton stepped down as the British phone hacking scandal surrounding News Corp began to spread to the United States. He is the highest ranking executive yet to resign over a crisis that closed down the News of the World tabloid and scotched News Corp’s $12 billion attempt to buy out BSkyB.

I have watched with sorrow from New York as the News of the World story has unfolded,” Hinton wrote in a memo to staff after resigning as chief executive of Dow Jones and publisher of The Wall Street Journal.

“That I was ignorant of what apparently happened is irrelevant and in the circumstances I feel it is proper for me to resign from News Corp, and apologize to those hurt by the actions of the News of the World,” he added.

At the Wall Street Journal, news of Hinton’s departure was greeted by gasps and a stunned silence, despite much speculation in both London and New York that he could be toppled by transgressions that occurred on his watch.

Hinton’s resignation came on the same day that another top Murdoch confidante, Rebekah Brooks, stepped down as chief of News International, which is responsible for all Murdoch’s British papers. Brooks worked under Hinton when she was News of the World’s editor and he ran News International.

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