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Monday, 10 January, 2000, 18:53 GMT
High Court battle over Holocaust book

Historian David Irving is suing US academic Deborah Lipstadt

By legal affairs correspondent Jon Silverman

Libel trials frequently generate high emotion - witness the extraordinary confrontation between Neil Hamilton and Mohammed al-Fayed at the High Court which ended just before Christmas.

But the libel trial which begins on Tuesday, also at the High Court, could not have a more emotive subject - the Holocaust which largely destroyed European Jewry between 1939 and 1945.

The plaintiff is the controversial right wing historian, David Irving, author of Hitler's War and a biography of Goebbels. He is suing an American academic, Deborah Lipstadt, over a 1995 book called Denying the Holocaust .

Historian sues over 'lies'

In the book, she describes Mr Irving as a "dangerous" spokesperson for Holocaust denial.

Penguin Books, which published Denying the Holocaust is a co-defendant in the action.

On his own website, Mr Irving calls these comments "lies" and accuses Ms Lipstadt - Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Georgia - of painting him as a neo-Nazi and blackening his reputation as a historian.

Ms Lipstadt has been loath to comment in advance of the case but Penguin Books says it is confident that the claim for libel will fail.

"We will vigorously defend David Irving's claim and look forward to the courts vindicating our right to publish this important work ," says managing director, Anthony Forbes Watson.

Irving represents himself

The case is not being heard in front a jury - both sides felt that the mass of documentation made it more appropriate for a judge alone - and the key moments are likely to turn on the testimony of some of the world's leading scholars on the Holocaust and Hitler's Germany.

Cross-examination will be given added piquancy by the fact that Mr Irving is representing himself ( at least one expert has declined to appear on the grounds that he does not wish to face questioning by Mr Irving).

The trial is expected to last up to three months and as the Hamilton al-Fayed case showed, the loser is likely to face a hefty bill.

Explosive trial

David Irving has a number of undisclosed backers. His opponents say many are right-wing extremists, and will attempt to demonstrate that his views on Hitler and the Holocaust are linked to his involvement with the far right.

In its scope and sensitivity, this trial could be as explosive as the celebrated libel action fought at the High Court in the early 1960s between an Auschwitz doctor who carried out medical experiments on inmates and the author of Exodus, Leon Uris.

In that case, the plaintiff - the doctor - was awarded a halfpenny damages and his reputation effectively destroyed.
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