TV Chef Nigella Lawson Photographed in Violent Encounter With Husband

The Taste Nigella Lawson Key - P 2013

The Taste Nigella Lawson Key - P 2013

UPDATED: The British personality is shown being grabbed by the throat in a London restaurant.

Unsettling photos of Nigella Lawson and her husband, Charles Saatchi, have emerged, showing Saatchi, a U.K.-based advertising mogul and art collector, grabbing the famous TV chef by the throat.

The images, published Sunday in the U.K.'s Sunday People, have prompted British police to probe the incident "to assess whether an investigation is necessary," ABC News reports. Saatchi, 70, is photographed squeezing the 53-year-old Lawson's neck at the restaurant Scott's in London as she winces in an apparent struggle to break free. She later left the scene in tears.

"It was utterly shocking to watch," a witness to the June 9 incident was quoted as saying. "I have no doubt she was scared. It was horrific, really. She was very tearful and was constantly dabbing her eyes."

Now, Saatchi is defending himself in a statement to The London Evening Standard, saying: "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 continued: "There was no grip, it was a playful tiff. The pictures are horrific but give a far more drastic and violent impression of what took place. Nigella’s tears were because we both hate arguing, not because she had been hurt. ... We 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."

A spokesperson confirmed Monday that Lawson had left the family's home with her children in tow.

The couple were married in September 2003. Lawson was previously wed to journalist John Diamond, who died of throat cancer in 2001.

According to The Telegraph, Lawson called Saatchi an "exploder" in a 2007 interview, adding: "I'll go quiet when he explodes, and then I am a nest of horrible festeringness."

Famous for her best-selling cookbooks and TV series airing on the BBC (and Food Network in the U.S.), Lawson stars as a judge on the ABC reality show The Taste, which was recently renewed for a second season. She has been promoting her new book, Nigellissima, which arrived in February.

Twitter: @ErinLCarlson