Scotland Yard is seeking “to establish the facts” of an apparent violent row between the television chef Nigella Lawson and her husband Charles Saatchi during which he placed his hand around her throat.
The multi-millionaire art collector and his wife were photographed at their table outside the famous Scott’s seafood restaurant in Mayfair eight days ago on Saatchi’s 70th birthday during a seemingly bitter argument which left Lawson in tears.
The pictures, published by the Sunday People, showed former advertising guru Saatchi putting his hand around Lawson’s neck four times, on one occasion raising a second hand towards her throat and on another seeming to grip or pinch her nose
The couple left their £12m home in London’s Chelsea in separate taxis on Sunday morning. Both remained stony-faced and said nothing about the photographs, which were published on the Sunday tabloid’s front page and generated substantial comment on Twitter.
Today staff said Saatchi was not expected at the modern art gallery, which bears his name and is a short walk up King's Road from his home, for the launch of a new exhibition today.
In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said it had not received a complaint about the incident two Sundays ago but was looking into it following the newspaper article.
The Yard said: “Officers from the Community Safety Unit at Westminster are aware of the Sunday People article. Enquiries are in hand to establish the facts of the incident.”
The couple, who married nine years ago following the death of Lawson’s first husband, the journalist John Diamond, are understood to have been at the end of their meal at Scott’s, a popular venue for celebrities such as Pippa Middleton and Kate Winslet, when the argument broke out.
The pair are regular visitors to the restaurant, always choosing the same outside area screened by olive trees so Saatchi, dressed in his habitual dark suit and white open-necked shirt, can smoke.
One witness of the argument between the couple told the Sunday People: “It was utterly shocking to watch... It was horrific really. She was very tearful and was constantly dabbing her eyes. Nigella was very, very upset.”
The paper reported that Lawson, 53, who has recently made the transition from British television screens to stardom in America, appeared to try to pacify her husband, placing a hand on his wrist and at one point leaning over to kiss him on the cheek.
Comments on social media expressed shock at the photographs as well as the failure of anyone to step in during the row.
Labour MP Luciana Berger tweeted: “A man reportedly grasps a woman’s neck 4 times in public & no one intervenes, incl. photographer who took photos.”
The television cook, who is the daughter of former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson, has previously spoken of a tempestuous side to her relationship with Saatchi but there has been no sign that the marriage is in trouble.
On the morning of their meal, Lawson tweeted a picture of her breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs and has subsequently sent further tweets about food.
Her most recent post was sent on Saturday lunchtime with a picture of a cup of green tea and a toasted bagel.
In an interview in 2007 Lawson, spoke of the couple’s contrasting temperaments, describing Saatchi as an “exploder” and herself as a “festerer”. She said: “I’ll go quiet when he explodes, and then I am a nest of horrible festeringness.”
Despite his wife’s status as the nation’s post-modern Delia, Saatchi has said her cooking is “wasted” on him. Lawson once commented: “Charles doesn’t really like proper food. He prefers a bowl of cereal.”