In his opening remarks,Richard Hartley QC for the Sunday Times said that although there was no problem with a man being presented as gay in the 1990s, Mr Ashby had promoted himself as a married man for his career as an MP, and lied about his sexuality.
Mr Ashby, 55, separated from Silvana Ashby, 53, his Italian wife, after what he described as 28 "tempestuous" years of marriage in 1993. He was accused of leaving her to live close to another man.
"You have to consider whether people do have mid-life crises, and have to say to their wives 'I now find my homosexual leanings are too much'," Mr Hartley said to the jury.
Mr Ashby was accused of having homosexual relations with his neighbour, Dr Ciaran Kilduff, 32. Mr Ashby bought the flat above Dr Kilduff's in Putney, south-west London, after his separation.
Although the two men admit they shared a double bed during a trip to the Chateau Tilque hotel in northern France in January 1994, they denied they were physically intimate. They said it was done to reduce the cost of their trip.
Mr Hartley said the two men slept in the same bed, despite the fact that the hotel had 33 vacant rooms. A twin-bedded room was available at the same price, also in the old part of the hotel, which Mr Ashby preferred.
Although the Sunday Times accepts Mr Ashby did not share a bed with a man on another trip to Goa, in India, as it alleged in an article on 16 January, 1994, it alleges Mr Ashby is a homosexual and denies libel.
Mrs Ashby, who has repeatedly accused her husband of being gay, did not give evidence yesterday because she was ill.
Andrew Alderson, a senior Sunday Times journalist, who wrote two articles on Mr Ashby, told the libel jury that the paper was first alerted to his domestic problems when it received anonymous phone calls alleging he had left his wife to be close to another man. Mr Alderson visited Mrs Ashby in her south-west London home.
"I asked her if her marriage was over," Mr Alderson said. "She said 'yes'. I said 'I understand it was fairly unusual circumstances for his leaving'. She said 'yes' and invited me in to her home for a lengthy conversation."
Mr Alderson said Mrs Ashby told him her husband was having an affair with Dr Kilduff, whom the paper never named.
The jury was also played a taped interview with Robert Sheridan, the homosexual partner of Brian Ashby, Mr Ashby's older brother, who lived in Kentucky openly as a homosexual before his recent death from a heart condition.
Mr Sheridan painted a bleak picture of the Ashby family, apparently torn apart by greed over the family business.
When Mr Sheridan, Brian's partner for 25 years, was asked if Mr Ashby was a homosexual he said he did not know.
"Englishmen are usually very refined, they have a little bit more of a gentle touch to them," he said. "It wouldn't surprise me if every Englishman was gay."
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