By Belinda Goldsmith
LONDON (Reuters) - Art collector Charles Saatchi has been cautioned by police for assaulting his wife, the celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, after being photographed grabbing her by the throat in an incident that has fueled a debate in Britain about domestic violence.
Photographs of Saatchi, 70, a former advertising tycoon, grasping a tearful Lawson around the neck while the couple were having dinner outside a London restaurant about a week ago were published in a tabloid newspaper on Sunday.
On Monday he downplayed the images, saying it was just a "playful tiff" and he was holding her neck to make his point, sparking fury from women's rights group. He said the couple made up although Lawson had moved out while "the dust settled".
A spokesman for London's Metropolitan Police said on Tuesday that they were aware of the photographs that appeared in the Sunday People on June 16 and had carried out an investigation.
"Yesterday afternoon, Monday June 17, a 70-year-old man voluntarily attended a central London police station and accepted a caution for assault," the spokesman said. "That would normally be the end of the matter."
Under English law, a caution can be given to an adult who admits a minor offence and this is not a criminal conviction but can be used as evidence of bad character in court for another crime. The suspect can be arrested or charged if they do not agree to be cautioned.
Lawson, 53, dubbed the domestic goddess after the title of one of her cook books and known for her flirtatious kitchen manner, has made no public comment on the incident that happened outside a seafood restaurant in upmarket Mayfair on June 9.
Her publicist said she would not be commenting on Tuesday.
"TREATED TOO LENIENTLY"
Lawson, daughter of former Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) Nigel Lawson, married Saatchi in 2003 after her first husband, journalist John Diamond, died of throat cancer. She has two teenage children, Cosima and Bruno, from her first marriage.
Saatchi's comments on Monday downplaying the incident unleashed a storm of comments on Twitter and in the print media, describing his defence of his behavior as "bizarre" while others criticized the lack of action taken against him.
Saatchi told London's Evening Standard, for which he writes a column, that he recognized the impact of the pictures but said they conveyed the wrong impression.
"There was no grip. It was a playful tiff. The pictures are horrific but give a far more drastic and violent impression of what took place," said Saatchi, who ran the world's largest advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi with his brother in the 1980s.
"Nigella's tears were because we both hate arguing, not because she had been hurt."
Saatchi, who opened the Saatchi Gallery in London in 1985, said he had made up with Lawson, his third wife, by the time they had reached home but acknowledged she had moved out, saying that was due to the paparazzi outside their house.
Polly Neate of the charity Women's Aid said perpetrators of domestic violence would often try to excuse or minimize their behavior and the caution given to Saatchi showed that these cases were often not dealt with severely enough.
"Often, women living with abuse at home do not speak out because they are worried they won't be believed or feel ashamed that their partner has been violent towards them," Neate said in a statement.
"We must take every case of domestic violence seriously, and ensure that the abusers receive appropriate sentences."
(Additional reporting by Michael Holden, Editing by Gareth Jones)