The wife of David Ashby, the Tory MP, described her husband's alleged violent temper to a libel jury yesterday, and claimed he threatened to kill her when she found him entertaining an elderly male friend, whom she inferred was gay.
Silvana Ashby, 53, stepped into the witness box to give evidence for the second day against her husband in his libel case against the Sunday Times, and Andrew Neil, the paper's former editor. Mr Ashby denies that he is homosexual.
When Mrs Ashby visited, unannounced, her husband's house in Ravenstone in his Leicestershire North West constituency, she said he attacked her with a carving knife. "I said, 'If you are going to kill me do it, do it, if you've got the courage. I will be dead, but you will be in prison for ever.' "
When Mr Ashby left his Italian wife in 1993, after 28 years of "tempestuous" marriage, he moved to a flat in south-west London, and Mrs Ashby believed that his neighbour Dr Ciaran Kilduff, 32, was his homosexual partner. Both men deny physical intimacy. Mrs Ashby visited her husband's flat and confronted Dr Kilduff on Christmas Eve 1993, after Mr Ashby refused an invitation to Christmas lunch with her and their daughter Alexandra, 27. They had a furious fight when Mrs Ashby said she saw a man putting his arm around Mr Ashby in the kitchen.
"I just couldn't take it, I shouted at him, 'Are you still saying you're on your own . . . and don't have anybody?' " she said. "He flew downstairs, came into the garden and put his hands round my neck, he tried to slap me and we had a fight outside. The grass was wet and we both fell over."
Mrs Ashby said she rushed inside and saw Dr Kilduff. "I said, 'At last Kilduff, it's time you and I met.' " She continued: "He didn't have any reaction whatsoever. He was calm and cool, he was extremely cold. He just passed in front of me, went into the study, picked up the telephone and said 'We've got an intruder in the flat. Can you please send someone as soon as possible.' "
Mrs Ashby said her husband attacked her again in July this year when she went to Ravenstone. She found him with Edward O'Byrne, a retired civil servant who had suffered a stroke. According to Mrs Ashby her husband said: "How dare you come here uninvited?" She said Mr Ashby then knocked her head on the wall, emptied her handbag, and threatened to set her skirt on fire with a cigarette lighter, and burn her face.
"I went into the kitchen, he took a very long knife, pointed it at me and said, 'I'm going to kill you,' " Mrs Ashby said. "At the point of panic I dialled 999 and he pulled the plug out of the phone."
Afterwards, Mrs Ashby brought her dogs in from the car, and said she challenged her husband about his friend: "I said, 'My God, David, you've made me sick. First you're going for young boys, now you're going for old and crippled men.' "
When Mrs Ashby was asked where she learnt the swear words she used in arguments, which Mr Ashby said he found upsetting earlier in the trial, she said, to laughter from the courtroom: "From my husband and watching Channel 4."
After Mrs Ashby returned to London from Ravenstone, she alleged that Mr Ashby took her Volvo car from the drive, which she believed he had insured after she told him the payment was overdue.
But when he returned it there was a copy of a letter inside the car which he had sent to Wandsworth CID informing them his wife was driving an uninsured car which he regarded as a "serious offence".
Mr Ashby wrote: "Should you wish to consider prosecuting my wife, I'm prepared to be interviewed."
When the Sunday Times published its first article on Mr Ashby's domestic situation in January 1994, alleging that he left his wife to live close to another man, Mrs Ashby said her husband asked her to lie to protect him.
"He said, 'I've got a solution to get rid of all these people, you just have to go out and say you've made a terrible mistake, that you've been lying, that you're very vengeful and spiteful,' " Mrs Ashby said.
"I said 'I'm not going to say I'm lying, because I'm not.' "
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