Photographs that appear to show Charles Saatchi grabbing his wife Nigella Lawson's throat were the result of a "playful tiff", he has said.

Police are looking into the pictures taken outside a London restaurant last week and which have been widely published today.

The millionaire art collector said he was holding Ms Lawson by the neck "to emphasise my point" as they discussed family.

He admitted to London's Evening Standard newspaper that the pictures looked "horrific".

Ms Lawson appears to be grimacing in the images taken outside Scott's in Mayfair.

Scotland Yard said it was aware of the pictures and said no-one had made any complaint to the police.

No arrests have been made and a police spokesman said inquiries were ongoing to "establish the facts in order to assess whether an investigation is necessary".

But Mr Saatchi has said: "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 emphasise my point.

"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."

Ms Lawson wed Mr Saatchi, who made his name in advertising, in 2003.

She has two children, Cosima and Bruno, from her marriage to journalist John Diamond, who died of throat cancer in 2001.

She became a household name in 1998 with her first cookery book, How To Eat.

There has been no comment from her representative.