London police are treating the alleged strangling of celebrity Chef Nigella Lawson as minor incident, with them giving her husband Charles Saatchi a caution after he showed up voluntarily at a local police station.
The 70 year-old art collector Charles Saatchi was cautioned by police for assaulting his wife, the celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, after having his picture taken while he appeared to be strangling the 53 year-old Lawson so hard that she was crying.
The photograph and the caution are creating quite a stir in the area of domestic violence. With many seeing the caution as being a very light “slap on the wrist” for what appears to be assault. Cautions are a very light form of reprimand in Britain.
There are two kinds of police cautions in the United Kingdom – simple and conditional.
A simple caution is an oral warning given by a police officer and doesn’t leave the person receiving the caution witha criminal record. In order for a caution to be issued, someone has to admit to an offence and agree to be cautioned. If they don’t, they could be arrested and charged.
A conditional caution requires that the person being cautioned to obey certain rules and restrictions. If they do not, they could be charged with a crime.
While a caution isn’t a criminal conviction, the fact that a caution has been given can be used as a reference of bad character if the person ever goes to court for another crime.
In both instances, cautions are issued for minor crimes. An example given by another website explained that cautions are given for graffiti, which would make sense and there is no real victim. In the case of assault, you have a clear victim and in this case it is Nigella Lawson.
The government is reviewing how police forces across the country issue cautions, amid rising concerns that too many are being given. As cautions are not counted as a “criminal charge” it could be seen as a ploy to keep rising crime figures from appearing even higher.
On Monday June 17, photographs of the 70 year-old Saatchi an art gallery owner and former advertising tycoon, was grasping a tearful Lawson around the neck while the couple were having dinner outside a London restaurant were published in a Sunday tabloid newspaper.
A spokesman for London’s Metropolitan Police said on Tuesday that they were aware of the photographs that appeared in the Sunday People on June 16 and had carried out an investigation. The spokesman said, “Yesterday afternoon, Monday June 17, a 70-year-old man voluntarily attended a central London police station and accepted a caution for assault. That would normally be the end of the matter.”
Under English law, a caution can be given to an adult who admits a minor offence and this is not a criminal conviction but can be used as evidence of bad character in court for another crime. The suspect can be arrested or charged if they do not agree to be cautioned.
It is puzzling that the police have treated the apparent strangling of Nigella Lawson as such a minor incident. Not only was the act caught on film, but it occurred in a public place. This offence is considerably more serious than graffiti or plain vandalism.
The 53 year-old Lawson, has made no public comment on the incident that happened outside a seafood restaurant in upmarket Mayfair on June 9.
Her publicist said she would not be commenting on Tuesday.
Lawson, daughter of former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson, married Saatchi in 2003 after her first husband, journalist John Diamond, died of throat cancer. She has two teenage children, Cosima and Bruno, from her first marriage.
Saatchi’s comments on Monday downplaying the incident unleashed a storm of comments on Twitter and in the print media, describing his defence of his behaviour as “bizarre” while others criticised the lack of action taken against him.
United Kingdom domestic violence groups are not pleased with lenient way that the matter has been handled by the police. The UK charity Refuge have made the point that domestic abuse is an enduring and widespread issue.
The Chief executive Refuge, Sandra Horely, said in a statement that, “Domestic violence is a massive social problem in this country. Last year over one million women were abused. Every week in England and Wales, two women are killed by current or former partners.”
Horely also said, “There are still so many myths and misconceptions surrounding this horrific crime. People often think that it only happens in poor families … but the truth is that domestic violence affects women of all ages, classes and backgrounds. Abusive men are just as likely to be lawyers, accountants and judges as they are cleaners or unemployed.”
Ms Horley added that it is a known fact that perpetrators of domestic violence “frequently try to minimize or deny their behaviour.” The charity chief also pointed out that violent incidents rarely occur only once and can escalate to more extreme behaviour. She said, “Research shows that strangulation is a key risk factor for domestic homicide. Last year, almost 50% of the women we supported had been strangled or choked by their abusers.”
Saatchi tried to explain the cause of Nigella’s tears, he said, “Nigella’s tears were because we both hate arguing, not because she had been hurt.”
Apparently, 70 year-old millionaire did not think that they might have been tears of pain or even embarrassment over her husband strangling her in a public place.
Saatchi, who opened the Saatchi Gallery in London in 1985, reported that he had made up with Lawson by the time they had reached home but acknowledged she had moved out. Allegedly, he stated earlier that he told her to move out “until things had cooled down a bit.
Polly Neate of another domestic violence charity, Women’s Aid said perpetrators of domestic violence would often try to excuse or minimise their behaviour and the caution given to Saatchi showed that these cases were often not dealt with severely enough.
In a statement, Neate said, “Often, women living with abuse at home do not speak out because they are worried they won’t be believed or feel ashamed that their partner has been violent towards them. We must take every case of domestic violence seriously, and ensure that the abusers receive appropriate sentences.”
Nigella Lawson’s spokesman confirmed earlier that she had left the family home with her children, but did not say whether it was a permanent or temporary move. The issue of the police treating Ms Lawson’s apparent strangling as such a minor event that it doesn’t even class as a crime in their eyes, has caused a storm of protest.
By Michael Smith