Evening Standard refuses to drop Saatchi over Nigella assault

The Evening Standard has refused to drop Charles Saatchi as its art columnist, despite widespread outrage over his assault on his wife Nigella Lawson.

The newspaper, whose editor is a personal friend of the art dealer and PR guru, has published several stories over the course of the week detailing Saatchi's account of events, but there were questions about whether it would keep him on the payroll given the extent of public anger over the attack.

"While this newspaper abhors violence against women, we do not see condemnation of an assault as a reason to intrude into the complexities of a couple’s marriage," it said in a statement.

"Some people have called for us to drop Mr Saatchi's regular column on photography, which appears today in the newspaper.

"Our view is that the police decided a caution was a proper response to the offence. It is overstepping our jurisdiction to go further."

It went on: "Should a person who has accepted a caution be barred from writing about art? Should the Saatchi Gallery be closed? Should he face total ruin?

"We decline to go beyond what the law considers appropriate.

"We believe that Mr Saatchi’s column is not relevant in its subject matter to recent events — and that it would be irrational and unjust to drop it just because it has been a wretched week for this marriage."

Saatchi has barely been off the front pages since he was photographed with his hand around his wife's neck several times during a meal in a west London restaurant.

Meanwhile, Nick Clegg was attacked by female MPs today after he described the assault on the TV chef as "fleeting" during his radio call-in show on LBC.

Asked what he would have done if he was a witness to the scene, the deputy prime minister replied: "What a difficult question. I find it so difficult to imagine…so you see a couple…I mean, I don't know what happened. I'm like you, I don't know what happened.

"When you see a couple having an argument…most people, you know, just assume that the couple will resolve it themselves. If of course something descends into outright violence then that's something different.

"I just don't know, there was this one photograph, I don't whether that was just a fleeting thing…or…I'm at a loss to be able to put myself in to that position without knowing exactly.

He added: "You're asking me to comment on photographs that everyone has seen in the papers, which as Nick Ferrari has said…

"I don't know whether that was a fleeting moment so I'd rather not comment on a set of events that I wasn't…if you're asking me a more general question, if you're sitting next to people in a restaurant who start, particularly if someone is much stronger, let's say, not always, but let's say if a man is much stronger than the woman is physically threatening a woman, then I hope everyone's instincts would be…to try and protect the weaker person. To try and protect the person who might be hurt.

"It's just I find trying to re-imagine how you might react to very specific events which still are not entirely clear – that's the bit I find it’s very difficult."

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper lashed out at the prime minister for the comments.

"Nick Clegg revealed how little he understands violence against women this morning," she said.
"Far too often violence against women is dismissed as fleeting or unimportant.

"Ministers should show they are prepared to condemn this kind of violence against women and that they recognise the seriousness of domestic abuse. Nick Clegg completely failed to do that this morning."

The comments also drew immediate criticism from female MPs, including Tory Sarah Wollaston and Labour's Diana Johnson.

"So just don't 'call Clegg' if your partner likes to grab you by the throat to emphasise a point," Wollaston tweeted.

Johnson said: "Nick Clegg has said on radio that Nigella Lawson was the victim of 'fleeting' domestic violence. The attacker accepted caution for assault."

The End Violence Against Women Coalition tweeted: "Reported response of Nick Clegg about whether he'd have intervened in Saatchi violence is terrible – need leadership from politicians."

The row comes just a week after Clegg was criticised for not going on diversity training in the wake of the Lord Rennard scandal, where the Liberal Democrat leadership was accused of not treating allegations of sexual harassment with sufficient seriousness.