Reports surfaced over the weekend of a recent public altercation between TV chef Nigella Lawson and her ad mogul/art collector husband Charles Saatchi, and now Scotland Yard is said to be investigating whether there was a violent physical component to the incident.

Photos published in the UK's Sunday People appear to show Saatchi's hand around Lawson's neck as the two sit outside Scott's, a popular seafood restaurant in central London frequented by the couple of nine years.

The two had been celebrating Saatchi's 70th birthday when Saatchi suddenly leaned in and "grasped" Lawson's neck, according to witnesses who spoke with the paper.

"I have no doubt she was scared," said one bystander. "It was horrific, really. She was very tearful and was constantly dabbing her eyes. Nigella was very, very upset. She had a real look of fear on her face."

During the alleged row, Saatchi reportedly held Lawson's neck in a threatening manner at least four times, and pinched her nose.

Witnesses said they could hear Lawson speak in a "trembling voice," and saw her attempt to calm Saatchi down by holding his hand and kissing his cheek.

The two then left the restaurant separately.

Breaking his silence this morning, Saatchi told the London Evening Standard that he and his wife had indeed had "an intense debate about the children," but that he had merely grabbed Lawson's neck repeatedly to "emphasize a 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.

"Inquiries are in hand to establish the facts in order to assess whether an investigation is necessary," said the Scotland Yard in a statement.

"A man reportedly grasps a woman’s neck 4 times in public & no one intervenes, incl. photographer who took photos," tweeted Labour MP Luciana Berger.

A spokesman for Lawson confirmed yesterday that Lawson had left the family home with her children in the aftermath of the incident, which took place June 9th.

In a 2007 interview, Lawson called Saatchi "an exploder," adding, "I'll go quiet when he explodes, and then I am a nest of horrible festeringness."

[image via Sunday People via Eater]