MP denies threatening to kill wife with knife

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David Ashby, the Tory MP, denied to a libel jury yesterday that he threatened to kill his wife with a carving knife, and accused her of being obsessed with media attention following the exposure of the failure of their marriage.

Mr Ashby, MP for Leicestershire North West, also denied he threatened to set his wife, Silvana, on fire with a cigarette lighter and dismissed allegations that he picked up a knife to attack her and later punched her when she visited his home in Leicester, where he was staying with a male friend.

"She was coming at me and attacking me, and I pushed her away," Mr Ashby said. "She phoned the police, and I was horrified by that. She'd been standing there saying 'help, help, he's attacking me'."

Mr Ashby burst into tears at the High Court on the fifth day of giving evidence in his libel case against the Sunday Times and Andrew Neil, its former editor, following allegations that he is homosexual.

As Mr Ashby, 55, recalled the day in January 1993 when the newspaper published the article, which alleged Silvana Ashby, 52, his Italian wife, was furious he had left her and moved to live close to another man, he broke down.

"I had no control over it," Mr Ashby said. "It was my wife on one hand alternating between rages ... the press hammering at the door, the telephone ringing, the pack howling at the gates."

Bur Mr Ashby said when he asked his daughter Alex, 27, to come home and "rescue" him, Mrs Ashby lost her temper again. He claimed she did not want a friend of Alex's, Suzie, to pick her up from the airport because it would divert attention from her.

"She said all they wanted to do was grab the limelight, arrive in a taxi and prance in front of the cameras," Mr Ashby said. "My wife seemed obsessed by the limelight."

Although Mr Ashby agrees he shared a double bed in a French hotel with Dr Ciaran Kilduff, 32, he denied they shared each other's beds at their neighbouring London flats and dismissed allegations they had homosexual relations.

Richard Hartley QC, for the Sunday Times, said it would be unrealistic to say how intimate the men were, but it was a homosexual relationship.

Mr Ashby also said it was not unusual for MPs to share rooms on foreign trips to save money. He wrote down on a piece of paper the name of one politician he had shared a room with in order to protect his identity. "He complained I snored," Mr Ashby said.

Mr Ashby later claimed he did not spend a night at Dr Kilduff's flat because he was tending to the family dogs.

When Mr Hartley accused Mr Ashby of sending a blackmail letter to his wife, telling her not to give evidence at the trial, he broke down in tears again, and claimed he was protecting his wife's dignity.

"What is the world thinking of my wife now, in the press all the time," he said. "I tried to speak to her, I didn't want it to happen."

The case continues.