Murdoch settles with Patten in book censorship fiasco

RUPERT MURDOCH last night apologised to Chris Patten, the former Hong Kong governor, and paid thousands of pounds in compensation in the dispute over his book dumped by HarperCollins.

HarperCollins have "unreservedly apologised" for and withdrawn any suggestion that Mr Patten's book East and West was rejected for not being up to proper professional standards or being "too boring", added a statement from the publishers.

The HarperCollins executives accused by Rupert Murdoch of "screwing up" in the debacle over the book by Chris Patten, were yesterday given a vote of confidence by the media tycoon. In a statement issued when HarperCollins insiders were expecting sackings and resignations, Mr Murdoch praised his London team's "professionalism, experience and determination".

Only a day earlier, Anthea Disney, Mr Murdoch's New York-based "corporate assassin", had flown into town amid expectations that heads would roll over the handling of his decision to drop Mr Patten's book, East and West, because of its criticism of China.

One HarperCollins source said that staff were expecting "blood on the carpets". However, following talks between Ms Disney, chairwoman of News America publishing, parent company of HarperCollins, and Eddie Bell, the company chairman, not a drop of blood was spilled.

"There are no winners or losers in the current controversy," said Mr Murdoch, who many would argue has emerged from the fiasco as a loser. "Mistakes have been made and we all share the responsibility.

"I have total confidence in the proven talents and abilities of Eddie Bell and the entire publishing team. Eddie, Adrian Bourne [managing director] and Adrian Laing [head of legal affairs] in particular have had a difficult few days, but I know that their professionalism, experience and, above all, their determination will take the company successfully forward."

Mr Bell made no comment after the statement was issued but staff at HarperCollins were told he would be making a longer statement of his own on Monday.

It is understood Ms Disney told executives that Mr Patten's claim for breach of contract would be settled out of court. That comes as no surprise given comments made by Mr Murdoch in his Times newspaper on Tuesday. "I did not tell people to try and censor the book or invent excuses not to do it," he said.

"I said: Why don't you go and say we would rather have someone else publish this and if there is any chance of losing money we will make good."

Insiders said staff were surprised that there were no resignations or sackings and they still felt uneasy about the future.

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