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Under-fire Clegg condemns violence

Nick Clegg insisted he condemns "all forms" of domestic violence after coming under fire for suggesting Charles Saatchi's clutching of wife Nigella Lawson's throat could have been "just a fleeting thing".

The Deputy Prime Minister was accused of failing to show leadership and lacking understanding of the threats posed to women after declining to say whether he would have intervened. But he insisted that he used the phrase in response to a "very specific question" and not in judgment on Saatchi's actions.

Art collector Saatchi accepted a police caution over the incident, captured in pictures published in the Sunday People of the couple at a central London restaurant.

The 70-year-old former advertising executive admitted the pictures looked "horrific" but dismissed it as a "playful tiff" and insisted he accepted the caution to stop it "hanging over" them.

Asked by a female caller to his weekly radio phone-in whether he would have stepped in had he been present, Deputy Prime Minister Mr Clegg said he could not say as he did not know the full facts. "I just don't know. There was this one photograph. I don't know whether that was just a fleeting thing," he told LBC 97.3.

He was immediately rebuked by female MPs - one shadow minister raising what she said were "disgraceful" comments in the Commons. Holly Dustin, director of the End Violence Against Women coalition, accused him of a "missed opportunity" to show leadership on the issue.

There was also a strong response to the comments from No 10, with the Prime Minister's official spokesman saying domestic violence "should be condemned in the strongest terms, simple as that".

As controversy over the remarks grew, Mr Clegg released a statement saying: "I completely condemn all forms of domestic violence. As I said on the radio, my instinct would always be to try and protect the weaker person, to try and protect the person who otherwise would be hurt. But I was asked a very specific question about how I would have reacted to a specific incident which I did not see.

"I said I did not know how I would have reacted to that specific incident because I do not know what happened. The point I was making is that I don't know what other people in the restaurant saw and I don't want to make a judgment on their reaction."

During the phone-in, an uncomfortable Mr Clegg twice suggested he could not comment on the individual incident without knowing if the neck hold was more than a "fleeting" event. Mr Clegg said that, in general, "everybody wants to protect people from being abused or bullied or hurt".

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