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Patten sues Murdoch publisher after Hong Kong memoirs axed

CHRIS PATTEN, the last Governor of Hong Kong, last night sued a publishing company owned by Rupert Murdoch after the media tycoon dropped his forthcoming memoirs which are critical of China.

Lawyers acting for Mr Patten lodged a writ at the High Court in London claiming breach of conduct against Mr Murdoch's company, HarperCollins.

The Independent revealed yesterday that Mr Patten had done a new deal with a rival publishing house, Macmillan, to bring out his book, East and West, to avoid censorship by Mr Murdoch. The tycoon has long been a placator of the Chinese authorities in order to protect his extensive Far East business interests and Mr Patten's memoirs are believed to contain scathing criticisms of Peking.

Against this backdrop Mr Murdoch has recently been given permission by the Chinese for his Star TV channel to broadcast on certain cable stations in south China.

Documents released yesterday show the deal between Mr Patten and HarperCollins foundered after Mr Murdoch personally intervened. He said the book had "negative aspects".

Mr Patten's literary agent, Michael Sissons, was told by HarperCollins executives that the book had been dropped because drafts of the first six chapters did not meet "expected standards". However, an internal memo from HarperCollins's chairman, Eddie Bell, to Anthea Disney, chairman of News America Publishing - a subsidiary of Mr Murdoch's News Corp, suggests the order to scrap the book came from above.

"Following your instruction to relinquish rights I have given considerable thought to the potential ramifications of such action ... KRM [Keith Rupert Murdoch] has outlined to me the negative aspects of publication which I fully understand." He added: "It is difficult to believe that any decision by Harper Collins to relinquish rights will not be directly attributed to News Corp."

Stuart Proffitt, the senior editor at HarperCollins working on East and West left the company after the decision was taken to drop the book. He had described the memoirs as the most "lucid, best-written and compelling book" written by a politician that he had read in 15 years.

Publisher's pledge, page 4