Charles Saatchi last night accepted a caution for assault after photos were published of him placing his hands around the neck of his wife, Nigella Lawson.
He had earlier denied that the photographs were evidence of anything more than a “playful tiff”.
Last night, after being interviewed at Charing Cross police station in central London, the millionaire art collector was cautioned by police over the incident. A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said: “Officers from the Community Safety Unit at Westminster were aware of the Sunday People article which was published on 16 June and carried out an investigation. This afternoon a 70-year-old man voluntarily attended a central London police station and accepted a caution for assault.”
Mr Saatchi had earlier broken his silence on the row between the couple to insist there had been “no grip” as he held Ms Lawson around the throat and he had been trying to “emphasise my point” during an argument about their children, on the terrace of Scott’s restaurant in London’s Mayfair.
The 70-year-old former advertising tycoon confirmed that the television chef had now left their home in a £12m former brewery in Chelsea but said it was at his suggestion “till the dust settled” following the publication of pictures of their confrontation in a Sunday newspaper. Mr Saatchi added that the couple had made up by the time they returned home.
Ms Lawson, 53, has not spoken publicly about the incident but a representative yesterday said she had “left the family home with her children”.
The TV star has shared the house with her two children from her previous marriage – Cosima, 19, and Bruno, 17 – along with Mr Saatchi and his daughter from another relationship.
The row, believed to have happened on Mr Saatchi’s 70th birthday, has received global publicity following publication by the Sunday People of the photographs showing him holding her neck and at one point pinching her nose upwards. She appeared to be grimacing and tearful during the row at the end of their meal in the seafood restaurant popular with celebrities and hedge-fund managers.
Mr Saatchi told the Evening Standard, for which he writes a column, that he recognised the impact of the pictures but added they conveyed the wrong impression of what had taken place. “About a week ago, we were sitting outside a restaurant having an intense debate about the children, and I held Nigella’s neck repeatedly while attempting to emphasise my point,” he said.
“There was no grip. It was a playful tiff. The pictures are horrific but give a far more drastic and violent impression of what took place. Nigella’s tears were because we both hate arguing, not because she had been hurt.”
He added: “We had made up by the time we were home. The paparazzi were congregated outside our house after the story broke yesterday morning, so I told Nigella to take the kids till the dust settled.”
Ms Lawson has previously alluded to a tempestuous side to her relationship with Mr Saatchi, whom she married in 2003. Her first husband, the journalist John Diamond, died from throat cancer in 2001. She has described her second husband as an “exploder” and neighbours said they had previously heard the pair arguing in the street.
Scotland Yard has said it is examining the images of the row, taken by a freelance photographer, to “establish the facts of the incident”, raising the possibility that the couple will be asked to explain to officers what took place. Police said they had not received any complaint arising from the argument.
The photographer responsible for the published photographs, who like Ms Lawson’s co-diners did not intervene in the row, said he believed the argument between the couple had been serious.
The man, who is credited in the Sunday People as “Jean-Paul”, told ITV News: “It wasn’t a game, from what I saw, it was more… if that was a game it was a pretty rough game. I couldn’t hear what they were saying.”
A witness to the row said Ms Lawson had seemed to try to pacify her husband after the argument, placing a hand on his wrist and leaning over to kiss him on the cheek. She appeared tearful as she walked to a car where Mr Saatchi was waiting for her.