Irving is freed after 13 months in Austrian jail for Holocaust denial

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David Irving, the disgraced British historian jailed in Austria for denying the Holocaust was freed from prison and given permission to return home after a Vienna appeals court ordered that he should serve the remainder of his three-year sentence on probation.

Irving, 68, was convicted in February of Holocaust denial, which is a crime in Austria, in a case that spark-ed an international debate about free speech.

Yesterday Vienna's highest court ordered that the historian serve the remainder of his term on probation and that he should be allowed to return to Britain after spending more than 13months in prison.

Judges accepted pleas by Irving's lawyer, Herbert Schaller, who argued that his client had already served time in jail and that he had a wife and young daughter in England to look after.

The prosecutor in the case, Louise Nittel, had earlier demanded that Irving serve the maximum 10-year sentence for the offence. She told the court that the threat posed by Irving should not be underestimated.

"He is like an idol whose words provide a basis for the far-right scene," she said.

Irving, 68, who appeared jubilant as officials removed his handcuffs in a courtroom crowded with his supporters and media representatives, announced that he would call for an academic boycott of historians from Germany and Austria until they stopped putting historians in prison.

"I am returning to England. I'm fit and well but feeling sorry for my family," Irving said. "I was put in prison for three years for expressing an opinion 17 years ago."

In London, Irving's partner Bente Hogh said: "David has rung to say he's coming back. It was half expected because he has already served over a year. I am pleased but to be honest I don't think it was fair."

Austria first issued a warrant for Irving's arrest in 1989 after he made two speeches in which he publicly questioned the extent of Nazi involvement in the murder of European Jews. One of his claims was that the Nazi Kristallnacht pogrom against German Jews in 1938 was carried out by unknown people posing as Nazis.

Austrian police only managed to arrest Irving in November last year when the historian was stopped on a motorway in the southern province of Styria during a routine traffic control. At the time Irving accused Austria of using "Gestapo methods" to track him down and insisted that it was "ridiculous" that he was being held for expressing an opinion.

Irving, who has faced repeated charges of spreading anti-Semitic and racist ideas, was disgraced and left virtually bankrupt by a libel trial in London six years ago when he attempted to sue the American academic Deborah Lipstadt for having described him as a "Holocaust denier" in her 1994 book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory."

During the proceedings, Irving claimed that the Nazi gas chambers were, "completely fictitious" and denied that Holocaust victims had been systematically exterminated in death camps.

At the end of the trial, judges cleared Mrs Lipstadt and described Irving as an, "active Holocaust denier" and as an "anti-Semitic racist who associates with right-wing extremist who promote neo-Nazism."

The historian, who has written nearly 30 books on the Nazi era, was forced to pay costs amounting to £3m.