Would you have helped Nigella Lawson?

Everyone's been pretty shocked by the photos of Charles Saatchi's assault on his wife Nigella Lawson for which he has now received a police caution.

Just out of interest, I looked up the criteria for giving a caution and the procedures for doing so on the Ministry of Justice website. It appears that domestic assault is not normally the sort of offence considered appropriate for a simple caution:

“Positive action is recommended in cases of domestic violence and abuse to ensure the safety and protection of victims and children while allowing the Criminal Justice System to hold the offender to account. Domestic violence and abuse cases often involve a number of incidents prior to reporting to the police. A positive action approach considers the incident in its entirety and should focus investigative efforts on gathering sufficient evidence to be able to build a prosecution case that does not rely entirely on the victim’s statement. Police and prosecutors should refer to the ACPO/CPS Charging checklist3 to help secure evidence-based prosecutions which are not solely victim reliant.”

The next paragraph may offer a clue as to why a caution was given in this circumstance:

“However, where a positive action policy has been adhered to but the victim does not support a prosecution and the available evidence (including any additional evidence adduced) would only disclose a very minor offence a simple caution can be considered in preference to a decision to take no further action.”

This is obviously a very difficult time for Nigella and she should be subject to no criticism whatsoever for any decisions she makes or doesn't make in relation to this. The fault lies entirely with Charles Saatchi. It's to be hoped that having to sign a bit of paper admitting his guilt in front of a police Officer will teach him a lesson.

I'm not his biggest fan, it's fair to say. Nigella once famously said that he preferred a bowl of cereal to her cooking. If he's said that to her, even privately, it's a bit demeaning, to be honest. If you have a spouse who's achieved a great deal in their field, you would surely be really proud of them, wouldn't you? Such an attitude seems quite belittling of someone who's made millions from her unique and slightly salacious style of cookery programme.

One thing that's been vexing many is that nobody went to help Nigella on the night. Had I been there, I'd have intervened if I'd seen anyone put their hands round someone else's throat, especially if that other person looked distressed. And if I had taken any pictures, I'd have sent them to the Police, not a downmarket Sunday scandal rag.

Yesterday I asked on Twitter if anyone had ever intervened in a case of domestic assault. I had 11 replies, not bad for a quick tweet in the middle of the afternoon, from people who had either got directly involved or who had called the police, including one from someone who had tried to stop a hammer attack on a family. Thankfully everybody was ok in that instance.

I've never had to intervene between spouses, but I have done so when I've seen parents behave really unpleasantly towards their children, giving them verbal abuse or pushing them around. There is never, and I mean never, any circumstance when it's justified to scream at your child, calling them a "wee f***ing s***e. Once I saw a mum push a shopping trolley really viciously at a boy of about 8. In both instances I got abuse from the parents but at least their anger was focused on me, not the child.

Alecia Simmonds has put forward her ideas as to why nobody helped Nigella. She said:

“The reason, I think, is not that the 70 year old Saatchi posed such a hulking physical threat. It is simply because what they saw would normally have taken place behind closed doors, in a domestic setting where law, for most of our history, has refused to enter. Thanks to years of feminist campaigning domestic violence legislation has relatively recently sought to challenge the idea that these incidences are ‘just another domestic’ and to end the violent tyranny too many men wield over their partners. Yet for all our legal reforms, the Nigella incident proves that domestic violence is still considered a private matter between husband and wife. Domestic violence is simply not taken as seriously by our society as other crimes.”

I think she might have a point. At least the legislative protections are there for victims of domestic violence, but our attitude towards it needs to catch up.

*About the author: Caron Lindsay is a Scottish Liberal Democrat activist and blogger at Caron's Musings, Lib Dem Voice and Scottish Roundup.