Anthea Disney was locked in talks all day with the senior executives who Mr Murdoch said had left him in an "inexcusable position" after dumping Mr Patten's book East and West, which is critical of the Chinese regime. Ms Disney, chairwoman of News America publishing, parent company of HarperCollins, a woman often described by colleagues as a "corporate assassin", flew in from New York yesterday morning and immediately went into a meeting with Eddie Bell, chairman of HarperCollins, and other senior executives. Her arrival coincided with a decision by Mr Patten's lawyers to include Mr Murdoch personally in an action for breach of contract against HarperCollins.
The company refused to say why Ms Disney was in London but her presence fuelled speculation that sackings, resignations or mutual partings were imminent.
"She's not here to hand out tenners," said one HarperCollins source. Another said: "We're expecting the carpets to turn blood red. She's regarded here as something of an Angel of Death."
Ms Disney, a former British tabloid reporter, has a reputation for doing Mr Murdoch's more brutal bidding. Last year, she axed more than 100 American titles on the grounds that they were either late or no longer commercially viable.
"She only comes in once a year," said another HarperCollins insider. "And it's usually when there is a crisis of one form or another.
"The atmosphere is very jittery. People are very expectant and there is a widespread belief that a number of heads are going to have to roll."