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David Irving

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The PQ.l7 Libel Action, 1970

Captain J E Broome, vs. Cassell & Co Ltd and David Irving

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PQ.17 bookCaptain J E Broome, DSO, RN, the escort commander in this 1942 North Russian convoy disaster, sued David Irving in libel after the publication by Cassell and Co. Ltd. of this book in October 1968. The case came to trial in February 1970; after seventeen days the Jury awarded Broome what was then one of the largest sums of damages, including punitive damages, in history.


In the High Court, London

David Irving's February 1970 replies to Letters received from Members of the Public about the Case

AFTER THE  British national newspapers published on their front pages the news of the immense sum awarded to Captain Jack Broome, DSO, RN., for the libels the Jury had detected in David Irving's book THE DESTRUCTION OF CONVOY PQ.17 (Cassell & Co London, 1968), he received letters from all over the world.

A few were abusive. One Royal Naval officer wrote an anonymous letter saying: "Your name will stink for ever amongst all seafaring men." Another sent a festive GPO greetings telegram reading: "We are splicing the mainbrace in Portsmouth tonight" -- dishing out an extra tot of rum.

The overwhelming majority of the letters was favourable, and included letters from fellow historians including a handwritten one from Hugh Trevor Roper, Admiral Sir Norman Denning (director of Naval Intelligence, and brother of the senior judge Lord Denning), and many of the other admirals who had read the book. Although the rules made it impossible for Mr Irving to criticise the award, let alone to continue to maintain that the passages complained of were justified, and that is not suggested here, here are some of the replies privately written by him to these correspondents in the fourth week of February 1970:

To Lieutenant-Commander Michael G Forsyth Grant, RNR, Retd.:

IT WAS VERY good of you to write to me at such length about the results of the Broome Case. I am only sorry that the Jury were not required, as is normally statutory, to read the whole book through before hearing any arguments from either side; I still cannot see how anybody felt the passages or the book as a whole was defamatory of Broome, let alone charged him with responsibility for the destruction of the convoy. After page 139 of a 306 pp book his name is not even mentioned! I believe there is going to be an appeal, and we must hope that Appeal Judges are less emotional animals than Jurymen.

I was very sorry to hear of Mr Gradwell's death.* I did not realise he had passed on until half way through the case, from a remark by the Judge. I must have been in correspondence with Gradwell right up to the very end, for we were discussing the preparation of the case in our last letters.

[* 1998 note: Leo Gradwell, a Marlborough Street magistrate, was one of the heroes of the wartime story].

To Ivor Worth de Paganel:

I HAVE RECEIVED quite a number of letters, and so far 95 per cent have been on my side; I have received some abusive, and some most objectionable letters, and these sad to say come almost all from naval officers, so far as they identify themselves.

There is almost certain to be an appeal, though whether it will be on the liability issue or only on the issue of damages we cannot say until Thursday. I will mention the points you have made when I next see my Counsel. I can only say how unexpected the verdict was -- until the Judge started his summing up, of course.*


[* 1998 note: The High Court judge was Mr Justice Lawton; before the war he had been a supporter of fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley, as more than one newspaper gleefully pointed out; he had struggled ever since to rehabilitate himself with the Establishment. His summing up attracted scathing criticism by national newspapers, the Guardian and Observer being two outstanding examples, and Private Eye ran a hilarious lampoon on it, "Mr Justice Lawandorder Sums Up."]

Private letter to The Editor, The Observer:

I VERY MUCH appreciate your Editorial, "A sense of priorities", in today's Observer. Your parallel case is very apposite; to my mind, as the Judge and Jury announced the damages and its "punitive" element, there came the case of John Bloom, fined (I believe) £38,000 for swindling tens of thousands of ordinary people, and admitting this.

It is a very disturbing state of affairs. Cassell and I would hardly have fought the case had we not been advised on the most experienced level that we had no case to answer (that was why we called no oral evidence); Cassell & Co.'s underwriters inspected the book and checked it against Broome's own official report, and also stated that we need not take Broome's threat of libel action seriously; my Counsel stated that if -- by some chance -- the Jury could be emotionally swayed against us, as Broome is a Royal Navy officer, the most he would be awarded for the very mild statements made about him would be say £500 (Counsel therefore advised a "payment in" in of £550, which we decided against in view of our defence that there were no defamatory or untrue statements in the book.)

There are powerful indications that the case was brought only at the instance of Mr Godfrey Winn (who threatened Cassell & Co in February 1968, just before Broome 's first Writ, that he was going to break them and me). Until this last Monday morning, we were convinced that the Jury would find for the Defendants, but after the Judge's curious summing up (describing me as a "fly and slippery character", and an "unattractive character", etc.) we had no doubt as to the outcome.

Postscript: In addition, a point which was not made enough of or widely reported: both the draft manuscript and the proof copy of the book were shown to Captain Broome, after he agreed to read them, and he was twice requested in writing to let us know what were the passages he objected to, if any. Twice he declined to make any comments on the manuscript. The correspondence read out in Court between myself and the Admiralty and others shows that I bent over backwards to obtain material favourable to Broome's case. Yet still he claims he was "distressed and disgusted" by the publication of the book, and claimed exemplary damages for injury to his reputation. It just does not add up.

To Prof. Hugh R. Trevor Roper (later Lord Dacre):

IT WAS VERY good of you to have written about the outcome of the "Broome Case". It has been a trying month altogether, and the Judge's summing up at one time made me wish I had worn waterproof hat, raincoat and galoshes, he poured so much abuse upon me; and I had to sit and take it! It is very likely we shall appeal on the grounds of misdirection of the Jury. All legal advice was that Broome had no case whatsoever, as I had just followed his own report to the Admiralty. However, he paraded four Admirals in the box, to declare that there is a difference between orders, instructions, recommendations, suggestions, and "jollying along" as one of them said, and he got away with it (and with £40,000). I predict that he will not live to see a penny of it, since this case will now go both higher and further.*

Would you like to dine here next time you are in London?

[ * 1998 note: It did. It reached the House of Lords, where seven, instead of five, Law Lords heard the appeal, a constitional issue having become involved; Lord Hailsham cast the casting vote against David Irving, telling him gleefully years later, in 1988, after they met in private at a TV studio, "I sank you, Irving, didn't I!" Cassell's appealed again, and the House allowed them half of their costs of appeal, which burden fell heavily on the unfortunate Captain Broome.]

To J. J. Bowes:

YOU CLEARLY TOOK the trouble to study the case very closely, and to follow what it was about. I only wish the Jury had devoted the same attention to what was in the book, and less to what the Captain's Q.C. told them he thought the book meant -- a lot of injustice would have been avoided.

To fellow historian (Mussolini biographer) Richard Collier:

THANK YOU FOR  the condolences. I think the case has implications for all authors, as I literally followed the wording in Broome 's own report to the Admiralty; however he paraded four admirals in the witness box to say what a good fellow he was, his Counsel claimed that the book blamed him for the whole disaster, the Judge described me as "an unattractive sort of fellow" and "a fly and slippery character", and we know the result. There will be an appeal.

I agree: when you have done with Mussolini, come and have dinner with Pat here one evening when you are in town -- we are about 50 yards from Grosvenor Square. I am just finishing off Milch, and then turning to Hitler.

To Sydney Bedgrave McRae:

IT WAS ABSOLUTELY  splendid of you to have written to me about the result of the Broome Case; I don't mind telling you that I have had a number of letters in very different vein, and yours was a welcome break from "poison pen"! By all means come and see me one day when you are in London, I am away from next Thursday for about ten days; perhaps you would like to ring me after then, when you are in Town, and come and have tea here.

To Peter C. Smith:

 IT WAS VERY good of you to write to me about the result of the Broome Case. I think there is going to be an appeal, and I shall ask you to cross your fingers in that event, as the verdict was certainly not substantiated by anything more material than the Judge's summing up.

To Anthony Fairburn:

IT WAS VERY  good of you to write to me about the Broome Case verdict; it has always been my view that any Juryman reading the book first could never have entertained the view that it defamed Broome in any way. Unfortunately the Judge, instead of giving them the statutory day to read the book as soon as the case began, asked them to read it in their spare time or "when they could", and I doubt that any of them read it all. The result was that the other Q.C. was able to suggest all sorts of things to the Jury, which had no basis in the book at all.

To William Roberts:

I CANNOT BELIEVE  that the Jury bothered to read the whole book, as if they had they could not possibly have reached the verdict that it blamed Broome for the PQ.17 disaster. I am horrified at the vindictiveness of the naval officers and historians they assembled to try to flatten my book (after 8 years' work on it!) Unfortunately they have succeeded.

[Indexto PQ.17 Libel Action]

© Focal Point 1998 write to David Irving