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Editor attacked over use of Irving

Conservative MPs last night angrily denounced Andrew Neil, editor of the Sunday Times, for lending respectability to David Irving's views on the Holocaust.

After an 'irate' Commons meeting of the Tory backbench media committee, Dame Jill Knight, MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, said she was concerned that the Sunday Times was seeking 'to lie down in the gutter with some of the less respectable newspapers'.

The main points of contention were the newspaper's coverage of the Royal family, and its employment on the Goebbels diaries project of Mr Irving, a right-wing historian who claims that the Auschwitz gas chambers were 'a figment of British propaganda'.

In a Commons written reply last night, Peter Lloyd, Minister of State at the Home Office, told Glenda Jackson, Labour MP for Hampstead and Highgate: 'The Government deplores the sentiments expressed by exponents of 'Holocaust revisionism' and other extreme right-wing groups.'

Sir Ivan Lawrence, MP for Burton, said after the meeting: 'Irving will be able to say 'I am thought to be respectable with my views because the Sunday Times publishes them', and he will just cause more anti-Semitism.'

But when the question of respectability was put to Mr Neil by the Independent, he said: 'I think the Independent has given more respectability to Mr Irving by publishing his views than any other paper could do. Your obsession . . . is quite bizarre. Who has given publicity to David Irving's views about the Holocaust? Your paper, not mine. I challenge you to find a single word.'

When it was pointed out that he had signed the Goebbels diary contract with Mr Irving, he said: 'The contract has nothing to do with his views. The fact that you work for a rubbishy newspaper is not my problem.'

One Conservative critic said Mr Neil had been accused of 'sanctimonious humbug' during the meeting.

Roger Gale, MP for Thanet North, said: 'There was some support, but the mood of the meeting was broadly critical, even hostile . . . There was very strong criticism from those I would imagine are members of the Conservative Friends of Israel about the use of Mr Irving.'

John Marshall, MP for Hendon South, said it was 'poppycock' to suggest Mr Irving was one of the few who could read Goebbels's writing. He said Mr Neil had recognised that Mr Irving was 'tainted goods', and added: 'Quite frankly, 'tainted goods' should not be used by a respectable newspaper. He has given a veneer of respectability to someone who merits nothing other than condemnation.'

David Sumberg, MP for Bury South, said Mr Neil's position was 'naive - at best'. But he added: 'The extraordinary thing about him is that he is incapable of responding to criticism without in some way attacking the critic.'

During the meeting, Mr Neil was reported to have said that his paper had lost pounds 750,000 on its serialisation of the book about the Princess of Wales. Mr Sumberg said: 'There was some feeling of disbelief that a newspaper should go in for that sort of loss-making exercise.'

Letters, page 18