But the revisionist historian also discovered that events are open to interpretation. Although the attack was real, what appeared to be a sinister conspiracy turned out to be no such thing.
Police were called to the restaurant, Richoux, in South Audley Street, Mayfair, just after 3pm yesterday. Mr Irving said he had been subjected to a hail of blows, while a television crew outside looked on.
Mr Irving has been paid a reputed pounds 75,000 by the Sunday Times for his role in finding and transcribing a complete version of the diaries of Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister, serialisation of which began in the newspaper yesterday.
Jewish groups have criticised the newspaper and its editor, Andrew Neil, for employing Mr Irving, who has claimed the Nazi gas chambers did not exist. They say Mr Irving has Nazi sympathies.
Mr Irving said yesterday that he entered the restaurant, 100 yards from his home and where he had lunched for 25 years, with 'a blonde Danish companion', to find several men apparently waiting inside for him.
'Before I had time to order a meal, several of them jumped up screaming insults and threats, and began punching and kicking me,' Mr Irving said.
Mr Irving was shaken, but unhurt. Police arrived and statements were taken, but no arrests were made.
What Mr Irving saw through the restaurant window while he waited for police alarmed him. A 'mob' of 20 or 30 people seemed to form outside, some carrying walkie-talkies. There was also a 'fake police car'. The crowd included an Anglia Television crew. 'My suspicion is that I was being set up. They wanted to get me outside where I would be beaten up in front of the television cameras,' Mr Irving said.
His fears proved to be groundless. Anglia Television was filming a forthcoming drama series in the street. 'It was pure coincidence. We had a film crew there with walkie-talkies and dummy police cars. They had no idea Mr Irving was in the restaurant,' an Anglia spokesman said.
Police said they were called by the restaurant after a disturbance. 'David Irving was eating there with a female friend. He claims an unknown assailant whom he did not see kicked him in the back,' a spokesman said.
Dr Lionel Kopelowitz, former president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, last night denounced the attack. 'I deplore physical violence in all its forms. I certainly do not share Mr Irving's views, but our attacks should be in argument and debate,' he said.
Jewish readers were said to have boycotted the Sunday Times in large numbers yesterday because of the controversy. In Stanmore, north-west London, copies were only available from behind the counter.
Kapil Yagnik, owner of Journaux, a newsagent's in Hampstead Garden Suburb, reported 100 cancellations from his usual sale of 700.Reuse content