THERE has been speculation, including in the Times Diary (6 July), that I spotted David Irving on his secret mission to the Moscow archive thanks to a tip-off from either the newspaper-proprietor-turned-novelist Eddy Shah, with whom I have shaken hands once, or from my old friend Tony Holden, the journalist, or both.

This is not true. What is true is that these days Moscow is packed with Westerners, spreading all manner of speculation and rumour, and that keeping a secret is about as difficult now as it was easy under Communism.

The sequence of events that led to the Times story was as follows. Shah, the founder of Today and a friend of the Sunday Times editor, Andrew Neil, was in Moscow last week picking up material for another of his novels. He was staying with his wife and family in the Metropole Hotel. This fine turn-of-the-century hostelry is very expensive, full of marble pillars, gilded plasterwork and flunkies trying to be as important as their clients.

On Tuesday 30 June I was having lunch at the Metropole with Robert Fisk, the Independent's Middle East correspondent. As I walked into the lobby I ran into several people.

First there was Holden. We first met in the early Seventies when we both worked for the Sunday Times. I had known he was in town. He was chatting to Shah. He introduced me, and asked Shah if he would mind if I joined them all for dinner that night. Shah agreed without hesitation, adding graciously that dinner was on him.

I looked forward to it, and would have been even more eager if I had known what I now glean from the Times Diary - that the subject of Irving and his secret quest for the Goebbels diaries was discussed freely during the


Unfortunately, I became otherwise engaged. That morning I had first spotted Irving having breakfast at another hotel - a much more modest, even drab affair, full of American and German tourists, misnamed the Golden Ring. Before lunch I had followed Irving about town in his shiny black Volga in what I suppose could just about be described as a 'car chase' (I was in my battered old Volvo). My aim was to establish the location of the archives where the Goebbels diaries were kept. By midday I had succeeded. That evening I was still on the case and I missed the dinner.

A FOOTNOTE. If it is true, as the Times Diary states, that Shah heard of the Irving affair from Irving himself after the two had bumped into each other in the Metropole, I wonder how this occurred. The Metropole is across town from the Golden Ring. Perhaps we will

find hints to the liaison in Eddy Shah's next novel.

(Photograph omitted)