U.K. police looking into Nigella Lawson throat-grab photos

British police are investigating newspaper photos that show art collector Charles Saatchi grasping the throat of his wife, celebrity chef Nigella Lawson.

The pictures drew widespread condemnation after they were published by the U.K.’s Sunday People tabloid. The paper said the images were taken during an argument at a London restaurant on June 9.

London police said Monday they hadn’t received a criminal complaint about the incident, and “inquiries are in hand to establish the facts” in order to assess whether a formal investigation is warranted.

Saatchi told the London Evening Standard newspaper that the photos misrepresented a “playful tiff.”

Saatchi, an Evening Standard columnist, said “the pictures are horrific but give a far more drastic and violent impression of what took 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 emphasize my point,” he was quoted as saying. “There was no grip, it was a playful tiff.”

The 70-year-old Saatchi also told the paper the couple “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 off till the dust settled.”

Lawson’s spokesman, Mark Hutchinson, confirmed that she and her children had left the family home, but declined to comment further.

Saatchi and Lawson married in 2003 and live in London with Lawson’s son and daughter from her marriage to journalist John Diamond, who died of cancer in 2001, and Saatchi’s daughter from a previous marriage.

In Britain, a complaint from the victim isn’t necessary to file assault charges if there is enough evidence from witnesses.

Lawson, 53, gained fame with her 1998 best-seller “How To Eat” and is one of Britain’s best-known cookbook writers, as well as the host of foodie TV shows including “Nigella Bites” and ABC’s cooking program “The Taste.”

Saatchi, co-founder of the Saatchi & Saatchi ad agency, owns one of London’s biggest private art galleries. He was the main patron of the Young British Artists movement of the 1990s, which made household names of artists including Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.

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