When photographs of Charles Saatchi with his hands around the neck of his wife, Nigella Lawson, appeared in a tabloid newspaper in June they shattered an illusion. We do not expect a beautiful and enviably successful TV chef married to a rich and powerful older man to be a victim of domestic violence. In this country the prevailing, but mistaken, view is that such victims are usually working-class drudges who get battered by brutish husbands, probably after a night in the pub.
Saatchi, a multi-millionaire art collector, hardly fits the stereotype of a perpetrator of domestic violence, but does this mean he has been treated differently to other men? Witnesses of the incident in a Mayfair restaurant confirmed, as did the photographs, that Saatchi appeared to be strangling Nigella and that she looked upset.
According to the criminal lawyers I have spoken to there was sufficient evidence for the police to refer the case to the Crown Prosecution Service, but instead of pursuing a court case they issued Saatchi with a caution for assault. This means that he admitted the offence but that no further action will be taken unless he reoffends.
I asked experts on domestic abuse whether Saatchi would be eligible for one of the "perpetrator programmes" designed to help men change their abusive behaviour. On the course, which is one evening a week for between 12 and 26 weeks, facilitators engage with groups of around ten men about their conduct and seek to get them to shift the blame from their victim to themselves.
Such courses may be all well and good if the behaviour in question is not criminal, but surely courts have no business diverting men who beat up women from proper punishment by the criminal justice system?
Davina James Hanman, a specialist in domestic violence and the law, said that because Saatchi had accepted only a "simple" rather than "conditional" caution he could not be made to attend a perpetrator programme, though he could choose to refer himself.