London, April 12, 2000
The man in shirtsleeves and waistcoat
IN A sea of black gowns, the man in shirtsleeves and waistcoat -- his jacket stained by a flying egg from an ill-wisher -- stands out. The profile is pugnacious, the eyebrow a quizzical arrowhead, the face imperturbable. Judged from an oblique courtroom view, David Irving looked bullish, iron-grey hair framing a fiercely florid complexion. Was it glowing health, mounting fury, or just the warmth in the packed courtroom?
There was standing room only, to the dismay of those unseated for the two-hour duration of the judge's deliberations. The 66 pages concerning David John Cawdell Irving, litigant in person, v Penguin Books and Deborah E. Lipstadt were distributed five minutes before the judge made his entry. The whisper went round the court: "Irving's lost." It was as if the first-night audience at The Mousetrap had been issued with Agatha Christie's script and knew whodunnit before the curtain rose. Irving, too, knew that the game was up.
But there was not a moment's boredom in court. Mr Justice Gray, Wykehamist and Oxford scholar, undaunted by the pronouncing of abtransportieren; Mischlinge; or Badenanstalten für sonderaktionen, maintained a delivery that was unemphatic and judicious even at its most damning. No detail was left unscrutinised. He presented the court with a crescendo of evidence, diligently considered, even though he stressed: "It is no part of my function to attempt to make findings as to what actually happened during the Nazi regime."
In the event, there was much to be learnt about what concentration of cyanide would be needed to penetrate brickwork and kill people rather than to fumigate clothing, and whether there were gas chambers at Auschwitz.
Irving had sounded confident on the Today programme a couple of hours before his fate was known. He expected his reputation to be enhanced, having taken on the scholars single-handed in sustained cross-examination.
And Mr Justice Gray did allow that "as a military historian, Irving has much to commend him". His research was thorough and painstaking, his knowledge of the Second World War "unparalleled". "He is beyond question able and intelligent, moreover he writes his military history in a clear and vivid style."
This was a "Brutus is an honourable man" encomium, an oratorical ploy before the condemnation ahead. The judge acknowledged the possibility that camp survivors might have embellished or cross-pollinated their experiences, building up a corpus of false testimony.
But in the light of such fair-minded caveats, the judge's conclusions were all the more devastating. Irving had distorted, misrepresented or manipulated the evidence to conform with his own preconceptions. His activities revealed him to be a right-wing pro-Nazi polemicist, anti-Semitic and racist and one who associates with right-wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism.
Irving had said on Radio 4 that he doubted he would have the legal expertise to appeal; and that a verdict against him could hardly leave him worse off than before, since no publisher would touch him.
But when the moment came, he was not to be so summarily crushed. He stood to address the judge, manifesting neither anger nor contrition.
He would, after all, appeal. He now realised that he had not explained himself with "sufficient clarity". Irving was defiant, unbowed, and, although a lone figure hoist with his own petard, somehow without pathos.
April 12, 2000