David Ashby, the Tory MP, presented himself as a victim of domestic violence to a libel jury yesterday. He described his wife as "a Jekyll and Hyde" character who derided his impotence.
Mr Ashby, who is suing the Sunday Times and Andrew Neil, its former editor, for alleging that he is homosexual, emotionally recounted his relationship with Silvana, his Italian wife.
The couple, who met on a skiing holiday and married 30 years ago, separated in 1993. Mr Ashby chokingly said his wife was still "wonderful" but she was prone to "flip" and subjected him to frequent assaults.
In the course of their rows, said Mr Ashby, 55, he was often reduced to tears and his wife would cuddle him.
Mr Ashby, MP for Leicester North West, denied he had ever retaliated. He dismissed allegations that he threw a wet sponge at Mrs Ashby, 52, when his mother- in-law was staying.
Richard Hartley QC, for the Sunday Times, which denies libel, said in the row that followed Mr Ashby, an ex-rugby player, put his hands around his wife's neck. "I assure you I have never rugby tackled, or hit my wife or anything like that," Mr Ashby said. "I have been attacked frequently by her."
Although Mr Ashby said his wife was capable of affection, and had even embraced him in court that morning, he also described how she taunted him for his inability to have sex with her. "It was very hurtful," Mr Ashby said. "She'd say 'you're not very good in that department, not like other men'."
Mr Ashby claimed his wife had always been jealous of his relationship with their daughter, Alex, 27, who sat with her father's solicitors yesterday.
When Mr Hartley claimed Mr Ashby had confessed to a past brief encounter with a man to his wife, he denied it. But he said his wife had been abusive about his relationship with Dr Ciarian Kilduff, 32, his neighbour in Putney, south-west London, with whom he allegedly had a homosexual affair. He denied he punched his wife at the flat where they lived.
According to Mr Hartley, Mrs Ashby saw, through a window, her husband putting his arm around Dr Kilduff. When she forced her way into the flat he allegedly hit her so hard he fell down the stairs.
Mr Ashby denied both allegations. He said his wife got into his flat, started ripping down the wallpaper and was so out of control Dr Kilduff called the police. "It was a nightmare," said Mr Ashby. At one point his wife had been so angry she shouted she was going to join the Liberals.
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