British police are investigating an incident between cookbook author Nigella Lawson and her husband, Charles Saatchi, after photos surfaced of her looking distressed as he gripped her neck with his hand.

Saatchi, 70, who co-founded an international advertising agency and now runs an art gallery, said Monday that the incident, captured by paparazzi and witnessed by diners at a rooftop seafood restaurant in London, was a “playful tiff” as the two engaged in an “intense debate about the children.”

Lawson, 53, was photographed with Saatchi at Scott's restaurant in Mayfair on June 9. Photos that ran in the Mirror show Lawson appearing upset with her husband's hands around her neck.

According to the Mirror, Saatchi launched a tirade of angry words and grasped his wife around the neck several times.

"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," Saatchi told the Independent. "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."

He added that the two made up by the time they arrived home.

"It was utterly shocking to watch," one witness told the Mirror. "I have no doubt she was scared. It was horrific, ­really. She was very tearful and was ­constantly dabbing her eyes."

Lawson, who is the author of several cookbooks and appears on the Cooking Channel was a judge on ABC's cooking competition "The Taste" along with Anthony Bourdain, Trois Mec chef Ludo Lefebvre and Brian Malarkey.

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