Tories in Turmoil: MP denies homosexual affair: David Ashby: Wife blames marital problems on long hours in Parliament. Rhys Williams reports

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THE Conservative MP accused of leaving his wife for a man yesterday admitted spending the new year in the same French hotel bed as a 'close' male friend, but denied having a homosexual relationship.

David Ashby, 53, who represents Leicestershire North West, told reporters camped outside his family home in south-west London that he was seeking legal advice over newspaper stories reporting claims by his wife, Silvana, that he had left her for a man.

Meanwhile, the doctor linked to Mr Ashby in several reports issued proceedings for libel.

Mrs Ashby, 51, yesterday blamed Parliament's unsociable hours for the breakdown of their marriage.

Speaking on BBC Radio she refused to talk about her husband's relationships, but said: 'In Parliament many marriages are going wrong due to the terrible hours they are having to work. It's a big destroyer of the family life . . . It is not just me. All the wives are complaining. We never see our husbands. We do not know where they are most of the time. Things can happen.'

Mr Ashby admitted that his marriage had always been 'tempestuous' and that he had moved out last November expecting a separation to follow. He confirmed that he had moved to a house where the male friend also had a flat.

The MP refused to name the man, but later in the day, Dr Ciaran Kilduff said he was issuing proceedings for libel. In a statement through his solicitors, Dr Kilduff said he was 'shocked' by newspaper reports linking him to Mr Ashby: 'I find it quite appalling that the press should feel able to publish such unfounded rumour and gossip, in some cases making direct allegations against me and in other cases using insinuation and gossip. I have never had a homosexual relationship with Mr Ashby, nor with anyone else.'

Mr Ashby also denied any suggestion of a homosexual relationship. 'I totally refute that. I have been married 28 years. So far as I am concerned I spent a holiday with a close friend. We went to two hotels. In the first one we managed to find twin beds and at the second one we didn't. It doesn't make any bloody difference.'

Mr Ashby said he had slept in the same bed as male friends on many occasions. Those who interpreted that as indicating homosexuality clearly had 'dirty minds'. He said that recently he came to the conclusion that 'my marriage must end' and planned a separation, feeling it was easier now that the couple's daughter, Alexandra, was 25.

However, Mrs Ashby, in her BBC interview, said she and her husband planned to go on holiday together after a crisis which she believed had brought them closer together. Unlike Tim Yeo, who was forced into resigning as an environment minister after pressure from his constituency, Mr Ashby appears to have the full backing of his local party. Margaret Hoskins, chairman of the North West Leicestershire Conservative Association, said he had been an effective MP. A permanent separation would be 'very sad, but I cannot see it posing a problem'.

(Photograph omitted)