As a public airing of the private nightmare of a marriage, it had the lot. The wife of the Tory MP David Ashby told a libel jury how he physically abused her, refused sex, and eventually confessed he was a homosexual.
Silvana Ashby, 53, who spoke in a hoarse Italian accent, told the jury yesterday that she felt constantly rejected by her husband. On one occasion, she said, he held a pillow over her face after an argument, and he said she should book appointments if she wished to talk to him.
Mrs Ashby was giving evidence against her husband in his libel case against the Sunday Times and Andrew Neil, its former editor. Mr Ashby denies he is a homosexual.
When the couple agreed to separate in October 1993, Mrs Ashby tearfully told the court, her husband said he had had a brief encounter with a man some years ago on a holiday in the Seychelles, and confessed he was gay. "I used to say to him 'you're different, I don't understand you any more. You've changed, that you like the company of men more than women,' " Mrs Ashby said.
"He came into the kitchen and said, 'I've got to tell you something, I have changed,' and he started to cry . . . I said to him, 'If you change once, can't you change again?' He said, 'It's not as easy as that.' " When she asked what he meant, he said: "I had an encounter many years ago. Then I put it out of my mind and now I can't."
Fighting back tears, Mrs Ashby told the court: "I was in no doubt that he was telling me he was homosexual." She denied she had used words like "poof" or "poofter" to her husband.
Asked about her reaction to what her husband had told her, she said: "In a way I was pleased, because I knew there was nothing wrong with me. I had thought for years that I was a terrible person and that that was why he didn't like me."
As Mr Ashby sat on the other side of the courtroom, often resting his head in his hands, Mrs Ashby clutched a handkerchief and told the jury how her marriage fell apart.
The couple met on a skiing holiday in 1964, and both described it as "love at first sight". They spoke in French because neither understood the other's native tongue.
They married in a Catholic church the following year and Mrs Ashby moved from Italy to Chelsea.
But Mrs Ashby said she was isolated by her husband, a barrister, from the start of their marriage. "He was always at work, and at weekends he was out playing rugby.
"I couldn't speak the language, I had no friends, no relatives here. I said to my husband, 'Can you be at home more?' He said, 'I'll buy you a dog instead.' "
When Mr Ashby became MP for Leicestershire North-West in 1983, Mrs Ashby said he told her she was now irrelevant to him. "He said, 'Remember for you I am dead, I don't exist for you any more. I will dedicate myself to my work.' "
Mrs Ashby also described her sex life as "not very satisfactory" to Richard Hartley QC for the Sunday Times. At first she said she took Mr Ashby's indifference to her affections as typical English coldness, but she felt increasingly rejected.
After Mr Ashby returned from a visit to his brother, Brian, who was openly homosexual, in the US, Mrs Ashby said her husband flinched when she put her arm around him. "He pushed me aside and said, 'Don't touch me, don't touch me, never touch me again.' "
Mrs Ashby continued: "He was always very cross, very angry. I'd say, 'Please talk to me.' He'd say, 'I have no time' and leave the house slamming the door. On occasions he'd say 'Make an appointment if you want to talk to me, come and see me in my office.' "
Although Mrs Ashby said she had been suspicious of her husband's relations with men, including Tim, a young parliamentary researcher, she said she did not become aware he was homosexual until later.
When Mr Ashby left her in 1993, after 28 years of marriage, to live in a flat in Putney, Mrs Ashby believed he was having an affair with his neighbour, Dr Ciaran Kilduff, 32. Both men deny physical intimacy.
Mrs Ashby admitted she left abusive messages on Dr Kilduff's answer machine.
But Mrs Ashby said she still loved her husband. "If you love someone you trust them fully, and I loved David more than my life," she said. "I still do."
Mrs Ashby also said her husband treated her with derision. On one occasion when she asked him what he wanted to eat for supper, Mr Ashby wrote his instructions on a piece of paper. When Mrs Ashby took it to the butcher's shop, she said he could not stop laughing. The note said: 'Pig's arse and cabbage'."
When Mr Ashby decided to become a Lloyd's Name, Mrs Ashby said she entreated him not to, because it meant using their home as a guarantee. Mr Ashby incurred losses of more than pounds 30,000 and Mrs Ashby said he wanted her to sell some property in Italy left to her and her sister by her father.
"He said to me if you were a normal wife, you would have sold some of the flats to pay for my losses," Mrs Ashby said. "It was a duty to my father to respect what he worked for."
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