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 Posted Saturday, March 13, 1999

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Continued from Part 1 and Part 2      [endnotes not yet keyed in]

David Irving, Jack Broome

WHEN the Trial began in Number Eight court on Monday, 26 January, 1970, I wrote:

I have great sympathy with the Jury -- all look decent men and women, whose shock must have been great when Sir Frederick Lawton, the Judge, elicited from Mr. David Hirst Q.C. the news that the case was to last four weeks.

Hirst spent all day, five hours, reading a long speech in a loud, monotonous voice, and I coughed loudly whenever he appeared to catch the Jury's attention... Hirst tried valiantly to delay the handing of the twelve PQ.17 books to the Jury to read until next weekend. Kempster and Duncan [leading Counsel for Cassell's and myself] thwarted this.

Knowing that I was unlikely to give evidence it was difficult for me to listen quietly to some of the grosser accusations mounted against me. I kept both leading Counsel, sitting in the pew behind me, fed with notes of which they made great use. I recorded on the second day that Judge Law ton appeared to favour the Defence, but much to our consternation on the 28th he announced that he was going to allow Broome's claim for "punitive damages" to go to the Jury (although it had not been received until the 20th, and common-sense, with which Lawton had previously indicated he was adequately endowed, indicated no basis for such a claim. )

On the 28th Broome entered the witness box (Diary: "It is a tragedy that he was too stubborn to talk to me in 1963! ") He continually passed his tongue around his lips, in a way that reminded me distressingly of my father on his deathbed. No matter: the words were pithy and good news paper. 

David HIRST: Did Mr Irving come to see you at your home in Chelsea to look at your drawings?

Captain BROOME: Yes.

HIRST: What happened?

BROOME: The first thing that I remember Mr Irving saying to me was something like, "Is it true that you shot the German airmen that you picked up from PQ.17?"

HIRST: What did you say to that?

BROOME: It made me realise in a flash what this sort of book was going to be like, and it made me feel very angry.

I was stunned by this exchange. The Jury's hostility towards me was immediate. I wrote to my leading Counsel, Colin Duncan, "This is a particularly wounding allegation and it must be countered."

Duncan sadly replied that as we intended calling no oral evidence, he was not allowed to suggest Broome's memory was wrong. On reflection, it seems to me that Broome confused my question to him about the identity of the two rescued enemy airmen with a passage in the book (which was not challenged in the trial), an unpleasant episode when the destroyers had opened fire on a crippled German aircraft that had ditched ahead of the convoy, with its crew struggling to get out. These are the kind of tricks that a 70-year-old man's memory will play.

The last moments of Broome's evidence did yield one bonus. Broome volunteered to Hirst how he had obtained an an authorised proof copy of the book. "It was lent to me privately by ..." Hirst interrupted him before he could say more, but I passed a note to Kempster to inquire who the source was.

Michael KEMPSTER [for Cassell's]: Can you tell my Lord and the Jury who was the friend who gave you a proof copy of this book?

BROOME: It was only borrowed.

KEMPSTER: Right . . .

BROOME: I believe it was Godfrey Winn.

He added: "I am not absolutely sure."

I whispered "Bingo!" to my lawyer. But none of the Press reported Broome's disclosure, and in my diary I wrote next day, "I am sorry to see that during Broome's most damaging disclosures" -- among others, he had confessed under cross-examination that all his own writings about convoy PQ. 17 were "rubbish" -- "the Press took no notes... I hope they make more of the rest of the cross-examination. The Press's influence on the Jury cannot be under-estimated."

On the course of Broome's cross-examination, I wrote, "The facts were gradually elicited from Broome that he admits turning [Convoy PQ. 17] east earlier than 75š45'N, and knew he was doing so; and that he knew of the "withdraw" orders to the cruisers before attaching his destroyers to them.

"In the afternoon, our chart-work was complete. Broome admitted all Kempster's points, though grudgingly. Hirst tried to object to our chart and protested that the original convoy route had not been 'disclosed' (it had)."

On the sixth day, Colin Duncan [my own Counsel] commenced his cross-examination -- "slow, painstaking, deferential, humorous and patient, but with a concealed edge which twice reduced Broome to awkward silence, realising he had fallen into a gentle trap." The Captain now agreed that although he claimed the book meant he was "largely responsible for or contributed extensively to" the loss of Convoy PQ. 17, neither he nor his destroyers figured in the book after page 129 of a 337-page book, and that in particular he was not mentioned in the final chapter, Inquest.

"Broome became very angry and impatient with Duncan twice," I wrote, "and once he was pulled up by the Judge for it. In general, however, Lawton's interruptions are still against us." I repeated this sorrowful observation in my diary of the ninth day.

When Hirst concluded, Michael Kempster, the tall, dark-haired leading Counsel for Cassell's, with a mellifluous, almost theatrical voice, rose briefly and announced his election to call no oral evidence. Seconds later, the words were echoed by my own Counsel. Able and experienced as David Hirst was, he may have considered this a possibility; he certainly did not welcome it, for the order of the closing speeches would now be reversed. The Court was now so familiar with his voice, that a male Juror once audibly confirmed his rhetorical fears "that I am boring you with all these details". Now he was called upon by the Judge to begin his final speech at once. Hirst asked for five minutes' adjournment; the Judge allowed him ten.

Hirst referred with some feeling to our refusal to call witnesses. (Why should we have? We considered the official documents were quite enough. ) I recorded, "We were accused of being 'willing to wound but afraid to strike', and of much else. No doubt worse is to follow tomorrow."

This was no idle prognosis. It is a piquant situation (but entirely legitimate) that a barrister is acclaimed for adopting views which may be foreign to his own for a fee, and is afforded protection from the Law however outlandish the libels that he may utter in so doing; whereas any historian guilty of adopting public opinions for money, and of libelling as a necessary part of that, need rightly expect no quarter from Society. Mr. Hirst's view of myself on another occasion I had by chance overheard at a legal meeting in the Middle Temple on 13 February 1969: according to my shorthand note, he described my book Accident -- the Death of General Sikorski as an "excellent book" and a "really solid piece of research." But now a year had passed; now it was Broome, not André Deutsch, who was paying the fee.

"At lunchtime", I wrote in my diary on 11 February 1969, "my Q.C., Duncan, had asked me whether I felt it proper that [my young wife] Pilar should be present, as she might find some of it painful." Afterwards, Hirst shrilled at the Jury, "I shall have cause to say to you without mincing my words that Mr. Irving has told Lie upon Lie in the preparation of this book and in the book itself." Next day I commented, "Needless to say the press reports Hirst's allegations that I am a Liar extensively. He repeated the allegations again today, but again failed to produce any evidence in support." 

Two days later, he sat down, and the waters were becalmed. Michael Kempster spoke. I felt he rather missed some of the points in our attempted justification (in particular, Kempster seemed unwilling to bring it home to the Jury that no officer can genuinely believe that a convoy moving at 8 knots can traverse the fifty miles between two estimated positions in 4 1/2 hours, as Broome indicated, in his 1942 report to the Admiralty, that he had believed.) But on the laws of libel Kempster was very sound, and the Judge had to concede this to him.

My own Counsel, shrewd, deceptively affable, spoke long enough on the main issues in his gravelly voice to suggest that the supposed defamations were not defamatory at all, and that those passages which were untrue (once I had written mistakenly "Londonderry" for "Scapa Flow") were not defamatory either. I recorded that evening, "He commands great respect and attention throughout his speech, and Miss Alexander (my solicitor) and I am unanimous that -- however the final outcome -- we could not have chosen a better Leader." After Duncan concluded, he caught sight of a small colour photograph of my daughters in gypsy costume, and kindly said, "With children like that, who cares about libel actions !" This was my view too.

On the Friday evening, I hoped Duncan's silver prose had won the day for us. On Monday morning, however, the Judge began his summing up. By noon I put our chances at only fifty-fifty; within an hour I knew we could not win.

By nightfall I assessed our chances as only one in five.

Seldom can the directions to a Jury have been clearer. (The summing-up was mimicked satirically in Private Eye, which was widely circulated in legal circles a few days later.) Mr. Justice Lawton twice warned the Jury not to hold it against the Defendants that they had not called oral evidence: "Do not be carried away by Mr Hirst's numerous references to the fact that the defendants have not seen fit to go into the witness box." But in his summing-up he himself referred to this ("You must not Infer facts from Mr Irving's absence from the witness box...") no fewer than fourteen times.

On the seventeenth and final day, my diary reads: "Judge Lawton resumed his summing up. At one stage, when he repeated Broome's fairy story about my first interview with him, I tried to get up and walk out, but was barred by Miss Alexander's colleague, so had to sit the torrent of abuse out."

Very early on, Mr Justice Lawton reminded the Jury that Captain Roskill "an eminent naval historian"; Broome, "a distinguished retired naval officer... and obviously a man of standing in the world"; Kimber, "A reputable and experienced firm of publishers "; and not least Lord Justice Winn, "a distinguished legal figure", believed the book contained libels. Having thus dwelt upon their qualifications, he warned the Jury to disregard their views. ("They may all be wrong. After all, with the exception of Lord Justice Winn, none of them are lawyers!") The inference was plain.

It may be that if you look at all these documents together the picture which comes out is a picture of an arrogant-minded young man who just would not listen to other people...

There is a large amount of evidence for you to consider against Mr Irving on the problem of punitive damages... There is some evidence which in the absence of any explanation from Mr Irving might lead some of you to take the view that he is not altogether an attractive young man.

He read out my private letter of warning to Donald McLachlan, and commented. "If there is anybody who is a slippery and fly character there, you may think it is Mr Irving, trying to inveigle this retired naval officer into a position where he could not complain afterwards if something appeared in the book which he thought defamed him. I mention this matter, Members of the Jury, because it is very important that you do not award punitive damages because you think that Mr Irving is rather an unattractive young man."

Then there is another entry in this daybook kept by Mr Irving, under the date 13 October 1966 -- an unattractive entry you may think. "Re Knight's Move showed de Salis the Master Copy ... I said The Knight's Move was a book with a difference, as all men were shown to be cowards."

Lawton invited the Jury to compare this with my letter to Captain Lichfield, in which I wrote, "My main theme, and I hope it comes out in the end is the extraordinary gallantry of some individual men." Again Lawton's inference to the Jury was clear.

On one central issue, whether the book was justified in referring to Broome's "disobedience" of orders, the Judge stated it was admitted by Captain Broome that he received signals from the Admiralty and Admiral Hamilton, "and he deliberately elected not to comply with them." But here too he gave clear direction to the Jury: "If Mr Irving has not properly understood naval usage and has made the mistake of calling instructions 'orders' when the Royal Navy would not regard them as orders, then he writes at his peril. You see, he has not sought to apologise for what he has done... and that might have made a difference in your view, or it might not." Twenty minutes later he again said, "If Mr Irving did not grasp that when he came to write this book, well, that is his mistake and he may well have to suffer for it." Our defence (that Hamilton had himself referred to them as orders, and that by previous signal from his C-in-C he was expressly empowered to issue such orders to Broome) was not mentioned in the summing-up.

At the conclusion, I knew how Mayor Goerdeler of Leipzig must have felt when arraigned before Judge Freisler in Berlin: impotent, angry, and (perhaps wrongly) convinced of my own rectitude, I reflected that at least Lawton had left me my belt to hold my trousers up. My brother, an R. A. F. Wing Commander, pushed his way through the crowd as the Jury retired and cruelly misquoted Voltaire's appraisal of Admiral Byng's execution: the judge's purpose had been "pour encourager les auteurs." On one issue, Lawton had counselled moderation, but with good cause. Fearing an appeal against the verdict he pleaded with the Jury not to give largess: "You are asked to give Captain Broome compensation."

Even then he felt it proper to mention. "It would be intolerable if people found themselves being punished because they did not appear to be pleasant people."

After five hours' argument, however, the Jury returned and announced compensatory damages of £15,000, and punitive damages of £25,000 -- the biggest libel award in legal history (with one exception, reversed in the Court of Appeal). The foreman, a plumpish lady architect who had dutifully filled an exercise book with notes throughout the trial, blushed as she spoke the figures. The Judge, I am told, turned white. Mr Godfrey Winn, who had attended the whole last day in person, conferred briefly with Broome (to whose lawyers he had also written letters during the trial) and then withdrew.




WHATEVER the purpose of this particular trial, fundamental questions remain. What private author can contemplate an initial legal bill of even eight hundred pounds, if he believes what he has written is true and refuses to be intimidated? Let alone an eventual defence bill of eight thousand pounds or more; or if he loses, a bill for £80,000? A wealthy personality, who feels himself affronted by a book, can prima facie easily suppress it, true or false, merely by threat of action.

Is it really the object of the Defamation Act that only the wealthier authors should feel free to write uncomfortable truths? And is it right that individuals should avail themselves of the Courts to pursue private campaigns of retribution against authors of whose general views they disapprove?

Meanwhile The Destruction of Convoy PQ.17, the fruit of eight years' work, narrating the stories of three hundred gallant seamen, as they told them to me, has vanished without trace. Cassell's again approached Broome after the libel action, and asked him to identify the errors and approve amendments, so that the full story could finally be published. For a third time Captain Broome refused.

Irving, Broome in 1970
Outside the courthouse, the verdict just announced, David Irving (left) takes Captain Broome's hand and shakes it: "No hard feelings," he says.


David Irving caricature


Postscript, written 1999: Cassell's and I appealed to the Court of Appeal; the famous Lord Denning was one of the three judges who rejected the appeal (the other two were Lord Phillimore, on whom see my book Nuremberg, the Last Battle; and Lord Salmon). We then appealed to the House of Lords; because Denning, characteristically, had thumbed his nose at a Lords ruling on which we relied, saying it had been reached per incuriam, seven law lords heard our appeal instead of five. The first three voted for us, the next three against, with Lord Hailsham giving the casting vote. ("I sunk you, Irving, didn't I!," he said gleefully when we met in a TV studio years later.) Some ten years later, Broome's lawyers agreed that if half a dozen words were changed, they would no longer block republication of the work. It was republished -- by William Kimber. To my very real regret and dismay, Captain Broome died in virtual penury, the lawyers having turned to him for their costs after the House of Lords, on a second appeal by us, ruled that he should pay one-third of the costs; by that time, Godfrey Winn, who had guaranteed him his costs, had passed onto a suitably gay hunting ground in the sky, and was no longer able to bail him out.

Post-postscript: Appeal judge Lord Denning remarked that I was "just a babe in arms" at the time of the convoy, as though that enjoined me from writing about it in the late 1960s. (I was four in 1942). His brother the admiral, of course, had taken a very different view of the book, praising it over lunch at the Athenaeum as one of the finest narratives of a convoy operation that he had ever read. When the admiral died, the judge was decent enough to send me a personal invitation to the memorial service at Saint-Martins-in-the-Fields; we shook hands on it on the church steps, and parted without rancour. Lord Denning has just died, aged 100, in March 1999.

David Irving


  1. Note on meeting with Duncan, Pugh and Miss Alexander, 9.45 p.m.. 10 Feb 1970.
  2. Diary, 27 Jan 1970
  3. Diary, 28 Jan 1970
  4. Broome's testimony, 29 Jan 1970 (Evidence 2, p.45)
  5. Irving: Comment on Broome's Version of our Interview, 31 Jan 1970.
  6. Transcript of Broome's cross-examination by Kempster, 29 Jan 1970.
  7. Diary, 30 Jan 1970. See also Broome's remarks cross-examined by Duncan. 2 Feb 1970, Evidence 4, p.49.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Diary, 2 Feb 1970.
  10. Statement of Claim as amended, 14 Nov 1968.
  11. Broome cross-examined by Duncan, 3 Feb 1970, Evidence 5, p.22.
  12. Cf. Broome cross-examined by Duncan, 3 Feb 1970, Evidence 5, p.7, p.11.
  13. Duncan says: Diary, 11 Feb.
  14. Transcript. 10 Feb 1970. Speeches 7, p.53.
  15. Diary 10 Feb 1970.
  16. Shorthand Note on during meeting called by Deutsch's Counsel Hirst on 13 Feb 1969, 4.50 -- 6.30 p.m. Hirst and 16 others present. See also typed note in Diary. 13 Feb 1969.
  17. Diary, 11 Feb 1970.
  18. Diary, 12 Feb 1970. Wording amended to follow Hirst's words, 11 Feb 1970. Speech 8, p.40.
  19. Check transcript 13 Feb 1970 and 16 Feb 1970.
  20. Diary 13 Feb 1970
  21. Letter Irving to Duncan, 22 Feb 1970
  22. Summing-Up 1, p.55A.
  23. Fourteen times: Summing-Up 1, (16 Feb): pp.30, 31, 55A (twice), 60, 66, 67 (twice) and 71; Summing-Up 2 (17 Feb 1970) p.2, pp.11, 19 and 27 (twice). Diary, 16 Feb 1970. 
  24. Summing Up 1, 16 Feb 1970, p.10.
  25. Summary 2, 17 Feb 1970, p. 11
  26. Summing Up 2, 17 Feb 1970.
  27. Summing Up, 1, 16 Feb 1970, p.32
  28. ibid, p.30
  29. ibid, p.38.
  30. This signal is Appendix 1; see Para (b) in Book.
  31. Summing-Up 1, p.53
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