Three years' jail for Holocaust denier Irving

Key points

• Controversial historian jailed for Holocaust denial

• Last-minute revision of opinion fails to sway the court

• Irving will appeal against sentence

Key quote

"He showed no signs that he attempted to change his views after the arrest warrant was issued 16 years ago in Austria. Although he tried to persuade the court, he failed." - Judge Peter Liebtreu

Story in full

BRITISH historian David Irving was jailed for three years by an Austrian court yesterday, despite finally admitting the reality of the Nazi Holocaust and the existence of gas chambers after a career spent denying both.

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Irving insisted at his one-day hearing in Vienna that he had had a change of heart and now acknowledged the Nazis' slaughter of six million Jews.

He was arrested in Austria on 11 November last year when he arrived to give a lecture. He was detained on a warrant issued in 1989 under Austrian laws that make Holocaust denial a crime.

During the trial the judge, Peter Liebtreu, compared him to a "prostitute who has not changed her ways for decades".

Mr Liebtreu told the court: "He showed no signs that he attempted to change his views after the arrest warrant was issued 16 years ago in Austria. Although he tried to persuade the court, he failed.

"He is not just someone who sold Hitler statues or who made people do Hitler salutes. He served as an example for the right wing for decades."

Irving's lawyer, Elmar Kresbach, said: "The court wanted to send out a message, but the message was too strong." Irving will appeal against the sentence.

The historian conceded in court that he had erred in saying there were no Nazi gas chambers at Auschwitz. Irving, 67, told the jury: "In no way did I deny the killings of millions of people by the Nazis."

Before the trial began, Irving told reporters that he now acknowledged the Nazis systematically slaughtered Jews. "History is like a constantly changing tree," he said. Later, he expressed sorrow "for all the innocent people who died during the Second World War".

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But the prosecution branded Irving's conversion to conventional historical thinking as a "theatrical exhibition" designed to save him from jail.

Irving, who has claimed he was bankrupted by a libel case he launched against an American author in London in 2000, has spent his life underwriting neo-Nazi claims that the Holocaust was a lie.

Ever the showman, he entered court 20 minutes early, clutching a copy of his book Hitler's War. He said "Austria would be stupid" to sentence him to jail and that "I am not a Holocaust denier, nor have ever been".

But the words his critics say he has spent years twisting convicted him. He has spent over 100 days in an Austrian jail since he was arrested in connection with speeches to two right-wing student groups in 1989 and a newspaper interview the same year in which he denied the Holocaust.

Irving claimed it was not Nazis who burned synagogues and killed Jews on Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass) in 1938 but agitators dressed up as them. He claimed the Holocaust never happened. Despite evidence dating back to the end of the war in 1945, he told the judge it was only after 1991, when he had access to the papers of the former deputy commander of Auschwitz and of the Nazi logistician Adolf Eichmann, that he came to believe in the Nazi programme.

"Naturally I apologise," he said. "I'm not a Holocaust denier. Obviously, I've changed my views. I spoke then about Auschwitz and gas chambers based on my knowledge at the time, but by 1991 when I came across the Eichmann papers, I wasn't saying that any more and I wouldn't say that now. The Nazis did murder millions of Jews."

An Irving supporter, Australian-born Lady Renouf, 56, former wife of the late New Zealand financier Sir Frank Renouf, spoke to reporters at the trial and called for the bodies of "so-called Holocaust victims to be exhumed to see whether they died from typhoid or gas".

Lady Renouf, who wore a Union Flag lapel badge, described herself as an independent documentary-maker and family friend of Irving.

She told reporters: "I am here to free David Irving and free Austria from this totalitarian law."

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