Tory MP sues over 'gay' report

The Tory MP David Ashby sued for libel yesterday over a newspaper report which he says claimed he was a homosexual, liar and hypocrite.

Mr Ashby, a 55-year-old barrister and MP for North West Leicestershire since 1983, is claiming damages over an article in the Sunday Times in January 1994 headed "Ashby shares a double bed on Goa trip".

His counsel, Geoffrey Shaw QC, told Mr Justice Morland and a High Court jury that the story said Mr Ashby and the unnamed man spent the night of 6 November 1993 in a hotel in Goa known as a love-nest that asked as few questions about its guests as possible.

Mr Shaw said it was true that Mr Ashby was at the hotel, but checked out to move somewhere more comfortable. That was the end of the truth in the article. Mr Ashby did not share the room with a male friend - he was alone. And the hotel was not the type described, but a "perfectly ordinary cheap and cheerful" one.

The story also said Mr Ashby had denied an affair with a male friend after they slept together in a "queen-sized" double bed in France early in 1994. Mr Ashby said they shared the room to save money.

Mr Shaw said that the story alleged he was a practising homosexual who had misled his wife, Silvana - from whom he had separated two months before the article appeared - about his sexuality. It also meant that he had lied to the public about having an affair with the man in France, and was a hypocrite in emphasising the importance of the family in his last election address.

Times Newspapers Ltd, and the former Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil, deny libel. Mr Shaw told the court that their defence of justification included the assertion that Mr Ashby was and is carrying on a homosexual relationship with a Dr Ciaran Kilduff, a friend who helped him after his marriage break up.

Mr Shaw said Mr Ashby and Dr Kilduff met when the MP was flat- hunting in the course of the break-up of his marriage and he bought a flat in Putney, south-west London, above the doctor's flat. They got on well together and became friends.

Mr Shaw said that, according to the newspaper, it was in October 1993 that Mr Ashby admitted to his wife he was gay. Mr Ashby's recollection was of a highly charged exchange in which his wife spoke of his impotence and asked if he was "a poof like his brother Brian". He found this hurtful because his brother was dying. "He did not admit he was a homosexual because he isn't," said Mr Shaw.

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