LONDON (AP) _ A civil servant strangled his wife because she put a pot of mustard and a newspaper on the wrong sides of his plate at dinner, a prosecutor charged.

''A more trivial beginning to a tragic event would be difficult to imagine,'' prosecutor David Jeffreys said Wednesday in opening arguments in Southwark Crown Court.

Thomas Corlett, 58, is accused of killing his wife, Erika, 63, at their suburban London home on Dec. 12, 1985. He has pleaded innocent.

In an alleged statement to police, Corlett said: ''It was her fault. I always placed my newspaper on one side of my plate, the mustard on the other. But she moved my paper and put the mustard in its place instead, saying, 'That's where I want it, and that's where I will put it.'

''She started shouting and kept on and on about the paper,'' Corlett allegedly told police. ''She raised her hand, and I thought she was going to hit me. I just grabbed her by the throat and we fell to the floor.''