and PATRICIA WYNN DAVIES
David Ashby, the Tory MP, faces financial and personal ruin after a jury in effect branded him "a liar, a hypocrite and a homosexual" by finding against him in his libel case against the Sunday Times and Andrew Neil, its former editor.
Mr Ashby, 55, sobbed when the jury delivered their majority verdict at the High Court, following five hours of deliberation. He faces a future which could see the end of his political career, the division of his family and potential bankruptcy, with legal costs of up to pounds 500,000.
During the three-week trial, Mr Ashby had poured out the most intimate details of his private life, lambasted his estranged wife Silvana Ashby, 53, who had repeatedly alleged he was homosexual, and persuaded Alexandra, 27, their daughter, to give evidence against her mother.
In a dramatic exchange after the jury delivered its verdict, Mrs Ashby walked over to her distraught husband at the front of the courtroom, placed an arm around him and reached down to kiss him. "Leave me," he wept, pushing her away through his tears.
Afterwards Mrs Ashby issued a statement. "It gives me no pleasure to see my husband lose an expensive libel action, I hope it will not have a terrible effect on him. On numerous occasions I asked him to think twice before continuing with the litigation . . . the last thing I wanted was to involve Alex, our daughter."
Mrs Ashby, a Roman Catholic, said she was unsure if she and her husband would divorce. She plans to spend Christmas with Alexandra, who works as a stockbroker in Italy, and was unaware of Mr Ashby's plans.
Mr Ashby, MP for Leicestershire North West since 1983, sued the Sunday Times over allegations he was a homosexual who had deceitfully presented himself as a married family man and supported the Tory Back to Basics campaign which upheld traditional family values.
Although the newspaper admitted it was wrong to suggest Mr Ashby had shared a bed with a man on holiday in Goa, India, it maintained he was a homosexual. He was accused of having an affair with Dr Ciaran Kilduff, 32, who was his neighbour after he separated from his wife in 1993.
The newspaper welcomed the jury's decision yesterday, but said that the trial had turned into a "ghastly family tragedy", and indicated that executives would consider being lenient in calling on Mr Ashby to pay costs.
The Sunday Times is understood to have paid a nominal fee of less than pounds 1,000 into court for damages to Mr Ashby.