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Press, anti-violence groups scrutinize throat grab on Nigella Lawson

By Laura Smith-Spark and Alexander Felton, CNN
updated 9:25 AM EDT, Tue June 18, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Saatchi tells paper he went to police to avoid an incident "hanging over all of us"
  • Images of Saatchi with a hand around his wife's throat were first published Sunday
  • Victim support groups use incident to highlight the enduring problem of domestic violence
  • A representative for Lawson says she and her children have moved from the family home

(CNN) -- Charles Saatchi told a London newspaper Tuesday that he went to police voluntarily over an incident in which he grabbed his wife, celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, by the throat to avoid it "hanging over all of us for months."

The furor over the incident dominated the British press Tuesday, a day after Saatchi accepted a police warning related to the case.

In a statement to The Evening Standard newspaper, for which he is a columnist, Saatchi said: "Although Nigella made no complaint I volunteered to go to Charing Cross station and take a police caution after a discussion with my lawyer because I thought it was better than the alternative of this hanging over all of us for months."

Images of Saatchi, a multimillionaire art collector and former advertising magnate, with his hand around Lawson's throat were front-page news in national papers for a second day Tuesday, after they were first published Sunday.

Report: Nigella Lawson choked by husband

Opinion: The rich and famous are not immune to domestic abuse

Saatchi, age 70, looked stony-faced as he left his home in central London earlier Tuesday and declined to respond to questions from waiting journalists.

London's Metropolitan Police said a 70-year-old man "accepted a caution for assault" at a police station Monday afternoon but did not name Saatchi.

"Officers from the community safety unit at Westminster were aware of the Sunday People article which published on Sunday 16th June and carried out an investigation," a Metropolitan Police spokesman told CNN.

"This afternoon Monday 17th June, a 70-year-old man voluntarily attended a central London police station and accepted a caution for assault," the spokesman said.

CNN contacted Saatchi's company for comment but has not received a response.

According to a UK government website, a caution is issued for minor crimes.

"Cautions are given to adults aged 18 or over for minor crimes -- eg writing graffiti on a bus shelter," the website says. "You have to admit an offence and agree to be cautioned. If you don't agree, you can be arrested and charged.

"A caution is not a criminal conviction, but it could be used as evidence of bad character if you go to court for another crime."

Sunday People, part of the stable of tabloids published by the Mirror Group, published the photos Sunday of Lawson and Saatchi at a restaurant.

The tabloid's website includes the caption: "Nigella Lawson attacked in public by Charles Saatchi."

Earlier, a representative for Lawson confirmed that the chef and her children had moved out of their home.

'Playful tiff'

Saatchi gave his version of events Monday to The Evening Standard.

London police: Man accepts warning in Nigella Lawson incident

"About a week ago, we were sitting outside a restaurant having an intense debate about the children, and I held Nigella's neck repeatedly while attempting to emphasize my point," Saatchi told the paper.

"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. Nigella's tears were because we both hate arguing, not because she had been hurt," he added. "We had made up by the time we were home. The paparazzi were congregated outside our house after the story broke yesterday morning, so I told Nigella to take the kids off till the dust settled."

The restaurant involved told CNN that its employees did not witness any such incident.

Lawson's Facebook page is filled with messages from fans expressing their support for her.

Lawson is known as the "queen of food porn." She has written numerous successful cookbooks and hosted TV shows.

With the furor making headlines, UK domestic violence groups made the point that domestic abuse is an enduring and widespread issue.

"Domestic violence is a massive social problem in this country," Sandra Horley, chief executive of UK domestic violence charity Refuge, said in a statement. "Last year over one million women were abused. Every week in England and Wales, two women are killed by current or former partners.

"There are still so many myths and misconceptions surrounding this horrific crime. People often think that it only happens in poor families ... but the truth is that domestic violence affects women of all ages, classes and backgrounds. Abusive men are just as likely to be lawyers, accountants and judges as they are cleaners or unemployed."

Horley said that perpetrators of domestic violence "frequently try to minimize or deny their behaviour," but that violent incidents rarely occur only once and can escalate to more extreme behavior.

"Research shows that strangulation is a key risk factor for domestic homicide," she said. "Last year, almost 50% of the women we supported had been strangled or choked by their abusers."

Watch a CNN interview with Nigella Lawson

CNN's Richard Allen Greene contributed to this report.

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