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[an error occurred while processing this directive] Wednesday, 12 April, 2000, 08:50 GMT 09:50 UK
Irving's war

By Andrew Walker of the BBC's news profiles unit

He was once seen as the brightest new star in the historical firmament - an extraordinarily competent researcher, a brilliant linguist and a first class writer.

But today, following his defeat in the High Court libel case which he himself brought, David Irving finds himself branded a racist and a Holocaust denier by a High Court judge.

He joins an illustrious list, including Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Aitken and Neil Hamilton, who have gone to law to protect their reputations and who have lost.

Irving's fall from grace is the most recent episode in a controversial career marked by numerous rows and frequent legal actions.

David John Caldwell Irving was born in 1938, the son of a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy who had seen service at the battle of Jutland.

David Irving in the 1970s
David Irving in the 1970s
Although he entered Imperial College, London, to study Physics, Irving failed to graduate.

He was rejected by the Royal Air Force as being medically unfit and decided, as an alternative to National Service, to move to Germany, finding employment as a steelworker in the Ruhr.

Returning to Britain, he wrote a controversial first book, The Destruction of Dresden, which described the 1945 air raid on the city as "the worst single massacre in European history".

The book was, nevertheless, popular and Irving followed it with a series of bestsellers, including The Mare's Nest and The Virus House, about the Nazis' atomic research programme.

In 1968 he found himself in court following the publication of The Destruction of Convoy PQ17. Captain J E Broome, who commanded the doomed convoy's escort, sued for libel and won.

But Irving bounced back and, in 1977, produced the work for which is probably best known - Hitler's War. The book looked at the conduct of World War II from Hitler's perspective, "from behind the Fuhrer's desk", as Irving put it.

He berated fellow historians for their idleness over research, as he had unearthed a vast collection of previously unexploited Nazi documents and had conducted many interviews with members of Hitler's personal staff while writing the book.

Auschwitz: Irving denied it was an extermination camp
Auschwitz: Irving denied it was an extermination camp
The vast work, which took 13 years to produce, contained the astounding thesis that, until late 1943, Hitler knew nothing of the Holocaust and that he never gave the order for the physical destruction of European Jewry.

He offered 1,000 to anyone who could produce a written document showing that Hitler had given such an order.

Indeed in the following years, Irving went even further, stating that gas chambers did not exist and that six million did not die.

At the time, Irving drew high praise. Hugh Trevor-Roper wrote, 'No praise can be too high for his indefatigable scholarly industry' and A J P Taylor commended his "good scholarship".

Most, though, were outraged by what they saw as Irving's unacceptable views. Irving underwent verbal attacks, the door of his house was smashed with a sledgehammer and he was banned from Germany, Australia and Canada.

Irving now views himself as a champion of what he calls Real History. He blames a vast, largely Jewish, conspiracy of 'the traditional enemies of free speech' for losing book contracts and income and now sees his works published free online on his own website.

David Irving speaking at a rally
His rallies attracted a racist following
A key element in the Lipstadt case was a report compiled for the defence by Richard Evans, Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University. Evans's conclusion was damning.

Irving had deliberately distorted and wilfully mistranslated documents, consciously used discredited testimony and falsified historical statistics.

And he concluded, "Irving has fallen so far short of the standards of scholarship customary amongst historians that he does not deserve to be called a historian at all."

Judge Gray's comments, calling David Irving "a racist, an anti-Semite and an active Holocaust denier" will have come as a shocking blow to this most controversial of authors.

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