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HarperCollins tells a different story on the axing of Patten's memoirs

SUBTLE is not a word normally associated with Rupert Murdoch, but his version of the truth as displayed yesterday was subtly different from the version released in a legal statement by Stuart Proffitt.

HarperCollins said: "Rupert Murdoch at no time tried to change Patten's book and he did not ask anyone to change it. From the start, however, he expressed dissatisfaction about the decision to publish it."

In fact Stuart Proffitt left the publishing giant not because Mr Patten's book was to be changed, but because it was dropped on 10 February. At the time the reason given was because the first six chapters of the manuscript did not meet their "reasonable expectations".

Mr Proffitt refused to go back on a statement he made in front of the publishing trade describing the book as "the most intelligently written I've read by a politician in 15 years of publishing" and was suspended by the company and served with a gagging order. HarperCollins' statement yesterday failed to throw any fresh light on the issue, simply saying that Mr Murdoch had never been happy about the book, regardless of its writing quality.

"He made his view clear to HarperCollins when he first learned the book had been commissioned. Rupert Murdoch did not agree with many of Patten's positions in Hong Kong which he thought abrogated promises made by the previous government.

"It was always clear that if we did not publish it, the book would be snatched up by any number of other publishers."

The final line of the Murdoch version of reality will probably bring a wry grin to the lips of Andrew Neil. Mr Neil was teased out of his job as editor of the Sunday Times after writing negatively about Malaysia: "As is well known," says HarperCollins, "the editors of News Corporation publications are free to express their opinions and often have been critical of the Chinese as well as other governments where we operate."