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In a rare response to public cricitism, Rupert Murdoch on Monday cancelled the publication of OJ Simpson’s book If I Did It and a related television interview with the former footballer, and apologised for pain caused by the plans.

“I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project,” Mr Murdoch, chairman and chief executive officer of News Corp, said in a statement. “We are sorry for any pain this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown-Simpson.”

All copies of the book, which had been due to hit bookstores on November 30, are now to be destroyed, according to people briefed on the publisher’s plans.

The move follows a public outcry over plans to air a two-part special this month featuring Mr Simpson and a hypothetical account of how he “would have” killed his ex-wife and her friend. In addition, the plans had triggered a rare case of public dissension within the News Corp media empire, with some Fox television stations refusing to air it.

Mr Simpson, a former American football star turned film actor, was cleared in a much-publicised criminal trial after his former wife, Nicole, and her friend, Mr Goldman, were found brutally murdered outside her Los Angeles home in 1994. He was later found liable in a civil trial and ordered to pay $33.5m to the victims’ families.

Mr Simpson has refused to pay this, and the roughly $3.5m deal with News Corp divisions is believed to have been arranged through a third party. News Corp declined to comment on whether Mr Simpson would keep the money.

The television special was planned to coincide with the publication of Mr Simpson’s book, OJ Simpson: If I Did It, Here’s How It Happened, by News Corp’s ReganBooks, an imprint of its HarperCollins division.

Judith Regan, publisher of ReganBooks, said in a rambling eight-page statement last week she took on the project because she was a victim of domestic violence. She said she thought the money would benefit Mr Simpson’s children.

News Corp declined to comment on Ms Regan’s future, whose ReganBooks division is extremely successful.

Last week, Geraldo Rivera and Bill O’Reilly, two of the best-known personalities on Fox News – News Corp’s cable news channel owned by News Corp which is itself no stranger to controversy and criticism – attacked Fox television group’s decision to air the programme.

Mr Murdoch has stepped in to cancel book plans before. In 1996, when News Corp was seeking to do business in China, he cancelled the publication of a book by Chris Patten, the former governor of Hong Kong, which was critical of the regime.

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