MP tells of plot to brand him a 'poofter'

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David Ashby, the Tory MP, painted a desperate picture of his failed marriage, and accused his wife of prompting a campaign by his sister to expose him as a homosexual. The MP, who was giving evidence in the High Court yesterday, is suing the Sunday Times and Andrew Neil, the former editor, for an article which he claims portrays him as "a homosexual, a liar and a hypocrite". He described the appearance of one article as "the worst day of his life".

Silvana, Mr Ashby's estranged wife, and Lynne Garling, his sister, had allegedly not spoken for 20 years, but he claims they both made contact after he quarrelled with Mrs Garling over the family business. In October 1993, she told him she would expose him as a homosexual unless he resigned.

"For the first time I realised they were two people in collusion ... she was determined to get me and she was coming in for the kill," Mr Ashby said.

Mr Ashby, who is MP for Leicestershire North West, married his wife, an Italian, in 1965 after they met on a skiing holiday. He described their first meeting as love at first sight, but proceeded to give a devastating account of how their marriage deteriorated.

He said Mrs Ashby would launch ferocious verbal attacks on him, including accusing him of being a homosexual, and he said he felt unable to discuss his impotence with her. "For the last five, maybe six years, we have fought every single day," Mr Ashby said. He later added: "Most of them were verbal, with really dreadful language being used. She knew it upset me so much."

Mrs Ashby also allegedly accused Mr Ashby, a barrister, of homosexual behaviour towards colleagues. He claims she vandalised his country home because he allowed a fellow barrister to stay there while working on the same case nearby.

"When I arrived back from the court the upstairs was upside down," Mr Ashby said. "The linen was taken off, the curtains pulled down. She'd put the towels in bleach. I recognised her handwriting over it from beginning to end."

Throughout his evidence Mr Ashby stressed his poor health and bouts of depression. He also said he was treated for sleeping problems, and currently wears a head contraption at night that blasts air into his nostrils to help him to sleep.

Mr Ashby also denied that he had had an affair with Ciaran Kilduff, whom he spent a night with at a French chateau. The two men first met while Mr Ashby was looking for a new London home, and they built up a friendship after he bought the flat above Dr Kilduff's.

When they spent Christmas together in 1993, Mrs Ashby arrived at the block of flats on Christmas Eve and shouted "poofters, poofters" through Dr Kilduff's letterbox, and the police were called.

Mr Ashby was adamant that they were only friends, despite the fact that they shared a bed at the French hotel when they travelled to France together for a holiday. According to Mr Ashby they had not booked on their second night, and after a visit to Agincourt they were anxious to find a room.

Dr Kilduff was offered a double room in the old part of the chateau-style hotel, with one bed. "It was a large bed," Mr Ashby said.

"What was I going to say? 'I'm not sleeping with you in that bed, I'm not sleeping in that bed'. It's embarrassing; you just don't do that sort of thing."