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Wednesday, 9 May, 2001, 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK
Oxford drops Hitler historian debate
David Irving
David Irving was due to discuss freedom of speech
The Oxford Union has cancelled a debate involving the controversial historian, David Irving.

Mr Irving, described by a High Court judge as racist and an associate of right-wing extremists, was due to speak on Thursday in a motion "this house would restrict the free speech of extremists".

It was disgraceful that the union was proposing in the first place to provide a platform for a man who has been condemned by a High Court judge

Lord Janner
The decision to invite him to speak caused uproar in the student community in Oxford and further afield, with the general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, David Triesman, expressing concern.

A large-scale demonstration, involving the Anti-Nazi League and the Union of Jewish Students, had been planned.

But, at a meeting on Tuesday night, Oxford Union members voted to cancel the visit.

Union president Amy Harland said afterwards: "I am deeply saddened that I have been forced to cancel the debate.

"I am angered that a small but very vocal minority has been able to force a decision which I believe goes against the wishes of the membership at large."

She added: "Free speech is a principle upon which the Union was founded and one that I believe it is essential to uphold. That is why I argued so strongly in favour of the debate and why this decision to cancel was so difficult to make."

Other speakers

Mr Irving was to have debated the motion with Richard Rampton QC, John Sentamu, the Bishop of Stepney, and Rohan Jayasekera, the director of the Index on Censorship.

President of the Oxford University Student Union, Kirsty McNeill, who had condemned the planned visit, said the Oxford Union Society should never have invited him to speak.

Ms McNeill expressed delight that the Union Society president, Amy Harland, had changed her mind.

"I hope the Oxford Union learns its lesson and takes into account the feelings of its members in future. It has a great history and I hope it can put this episode behind it," she said.

Peer's delight

The Labour peer and secretary of the all-party Parliamentary War Crimes Group, Lord Janner, said he was delighted the "totally unacceptable" invitation had been withdrawn.

"It was disgraceful that the union was proposing in the first place to provide a platform for a man who has been condemned by a High Court judge not only as a Holocaust denier, but also as someone who misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence," he said.

In the High Court last year, Mr Irving, author of Hitler's War and a biography of Goebbels, lost his libel battle over a book by academic Deborah Lipstadt which described him as a "Holocaust denier".

The judge, Mr Justice Gray, found that Mr Irving was "an active Holocaust denier; that he is anti-Semitic and racist and that he associates with right-wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism".

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See also:

04 May 01 | Education
Oxford Union in Hitler historian row
11 Apr 00 | UK
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