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Nigella Lawson: ‘I was vilified in court’

Nigella Lawson has said she was 'maliciously villified' in court. Picture: AP

Nigella Lawson has said she was 'maliciously villified' in court. Picture: AP

  • by NICK EARDLEY
 

Nigella Lawson has called for reform of the legal system, saying she had been “maliciously vilified” in court, with no opportunity to rebut allegations that she was a habitual drug user.

The television chef spoke out after her two assistants, Francesca Grillo, 35, and her sister, Elisabetta, 41, were cleared of fraudulently using a credit card given to them by Ms Lawson and her former

husband Charles Saatchi.

The celebrity cook said the jury had been “faced with a ridiculous sideshow of false allegations” about drug use “which made focus on the actual criminal trial impossible”.

Ms Lawson admitted during the three-week trial that she had taken cocaine, after allegations of drug use arose as part of the defence case.

However, Scotland Yard said yesterday that it would not be investigating unless new evidence came to light.

Ms Lawson said in a statement: “I am disappointed but unsurprised by this verdict. My experience as a witness was deeply disturbing.

“During the trial, not one witness claimed to see me take drugs and not one of my three assistants was asked about these claims by the defence, despite being cross-examined at length. I did my civic duty, only to be maliciously vilified without the right to respond.”

Her statement went on: “Even more harrowing was seeing my children subjected to extreme allegations in court without any real protection or representation. For this, I cannot forgive the court process.”

The Italian sisters had been accused of spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on luxury goods for themselves while working as personal assistants to the celebrity couple.

They claimed they were given free rein with the credit card on the understanding they would not reveal Ms Lawson’s drug use to her husband.

A day of drama and tension at Isleworth Crown Court in west London began yesterday with one of the sisters, Elisabetta, collapsing on arrival.

Neither of the Grillos was in Court 8 when the jury foreman read out the verdicts, the seven men and five women having been deliberating for almost nine hours.

The pair had been excused from the dock because Elisabetta stopped breathing after a panic attack on Thursday and spent two hours in hospital.

Moments after the verdicts, Francesca’s barrister, Karina Arden, and Anthony Metzer, QC, representing Elisabetta, turned to each other and smiled.

When the judge left the court, they hugged members of the defence team, one of whom was crying what appeared to be tears of joy and relief.

Ms Arden was then seen in the court foyer, proclaiming to her client: “C’e un Dio!” – Italian for “There is a God”. Francesca replied with a smile, said “C’e un Dio!” and the pair embraced.

Mr Metzer said his client was “relieved” and “crying her eyes out”.

It had been alleged that, between 1 January, 2008, and 31 December, 2012, the two women committed fraud by abusing their positions as personal assistants, using a company credit card for personal gain.

They were accused of spending more than £685,000 on themselves and of living the “high life”.

The court heard they used credit cards loaned to them by the couple – who paid two cleaners £400 twice a month to polish candlesticks, trays and tea sets in their “silver room” – to buy designer goods from Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Vivienne Westwood.

In June last year, Francesca blew £5,000 on a pink fluffy fur coat and spent thousands more a few months earlier on clothes from Miu Miu and Chanel.

She spent £4,000 hiring a private boat while on holiday with Ms Saatchi’s daughter Phoebe and a friend in St Tropez. On the same holiday she bought a Christian Dior handbag, which she insisted was a present from Nigella.

In August 2011, her credit limit was raised to £100,000 after she spent €7,800 on a hotel bill on the same trip.

In a sensational twist, their defence lawyers introduced allegations of drug-taking by Ms Lawson and marital strife involving the celebrity couple.

In court, Ms Lawson accused multi-millionaire art dealer Mr Saatchi of threatening to “destroy” her.

It was claimed by the defence that there was a culture of secrecy within the high-profile couple’s marriage and that the Grillo sisters were aware of Ms Lawson’s alleged drug use, while Mr Saatchi was not.

The defence lawyers claimed that Elisabetta’s knowledge of Ms Lawson’s supposed drug use had materially affected the celebrity cook’s attitude towards her spending.

During the trial, the jury heard details of an e-mail sent by Mr Saatchi in which he accused Ms Lawson of being “off her head” on drugs and branding her “Higella”.

He wrote in that e-mail: “Of course now the Grillos will get off on the basis that you … were so off your head on drugs that you allowed the sisters to spend whatever they liked and, yes, I believe every word the Grillos have said, who after all only stole money.”

In his evidence, he said it had been a “terrible, terrible mistake” for that e-mail to become public.

Asked if he believed Ms Lawson had allowed staff to spend what they liked because she was under the influence of drugs, he replied: “Not for a second.”

Jurors were told that Elisabetta had not initially planned to use her former boss’s alleged drug-taking in her defence, in an effort to protect the TV cook.

An original defence case statement for Elisabetta from August did not include allegations of Ms Lawson’s alleged drug use, because she did not want them raised in court as she felt sympathy for her, jurors heard.

However, an extra statement added in November did include the claims.

The additional statement, read to the court by Elisabetta’s barrister, said his client would assert that Ms Lawson “habitually indulged in the use of Class A and Class B drugs in addition to the abuse of prescription drugs” throughout the personal assistant’s employment.

It went on: “This evidence is of substantial importance as it explains why Ms Lawson initially consented, or appeared to consent, to the expenditure as the defendants were intimately connected to her private life and were aware of the drug use which she wanted to keep from her then-husband Charles Saatchi.”

Ms Lawson admitted during the trial that she had taken cocaine with her previous husband, John Diamond, when he found out he had terminal cancer, and on another occasion in July 2010 during her troubled marriage to Mr Saatchi.

However, the 53-year-old, who also admitted smoking cannabis, told the court the idea that she was a “drug addict or habitual user of cocaine is absolutely ridiculous”.

She described Mr Saatchi as a “brilliant, but brutal man” who had subjected her to “intimate terrorism”.

The food writer claimed her ten-year marriage to him became so unhappy that it drove her to drugs, which made an “intolerable situation tolerable”.

Profile: Blow to cookery queen’s image

With her seductive looks and frivolous attitude to cooking, Nigella Lawson became a celebrity who appealed to men and women alike. Her flirtatious presenting style earned her the title “queen of food porn”, but she is better known as the Domestic Goddess, after the title of one of her many best-selling cookery books.

Her public perception took a battering during the trial, with allegations of cocaine addiction and claims she allowed her teenage daughter to smoke cannabis.

And while her ten-year marriage to millionaire art collector Charles Saatchi may have once appeared happy on the outside, the case has become more of a courtroom battle between the former celebrity couple.

Giving evidence, the 53-year-old claimed her marriage to Mr Saatchi became so unhappy it drove her to drugs. She said she had tried cocaine, but the “idea that I am a drug addict or habitual user of cocaine is absolutely ridiculous”. She told the court she took the class-A drug with her first husband, John Diamond, when he found out he had terminal cancer, and then later during her troubled relationship with Mr Saatchi.

Ms Lawson said Mr Saatchi “told everyone” he was taking cocaine out of her nose in the now infamous incident in which he was photographed with his hands around her neck at Scott’s restaurant in Mayfair, London, in June.

In court, Ms Lawson described Mr Saatchi as controlling and claimed he was on a campaign to “ruin me in any way”.

She also said he once “punished” her for going to a friend’s party.

While she was described as sociable, the trial heard Mr Saatchi did not like her being away from their home for too long and was unsupportive of her desire to develop her career in the United States.

Ms Lawson rose to fame well over a decade ago, with her first TV series Nigella Bites. A number of other shows followed, winning a number of awards and gaining her a keen following of fans.

She has also had a series of books published, including the award-winning How To Be A Domestic Goddess in 2000.

The daughter of former chancellor and Conservative MP Nigel Lawson and his first wife, Vanessa Salmon, Oxford-educated Ms Lawson began her career as a book reviewer before going on to write for newspapers and magazines.

Profile: Publicity guru who cherished privacy

Little could Charles Saatchi have known when he first came to suspect the Grillo sisters that it would result in a chain of events which ended with the innermost details of his marriage being laid bare in court.

The multi-millionaire art gallery owner and collector is not one to court publicity, shunning even his own exhibition openings.

Back then he was seemingly happily married to TV cook Nigella Lawson, making him the envy of millions of men.

However, that marriage suddenly and very publicly fell apart after he was photographed clasping his wife’s throat at a posh restaurant.

While he claimed to still “adore” his third wife as he gave evidence during the trial, Ms Lawson did not have such positive things to say about him.

A “brilliant, but brutal man” who subjected her to “intimate terrorism” was how she described him.

She also accused her ex-husband of launching a “campaign” against her in the light of this summer’s events and the photographs taken of them at Scott’s restaurant in Mayfair, central London.

A private and guarded man, Mr Saatchi has long avoided interviews, earning himself something of a reputation as a recluse.

However, although he has done his best to avoid giving too much about himself away, the court heard

much about his allegedly explosive temper.

During her defence, Elisabetta Grillo claimed her employer would make her feel “very little” and shout at her because her English was not that good, while personal assistant Zoe Wales also referred to his temper.

Ms Lawson told the court: “Yes, he did have a temper and I don’t think that anyone can be in any doubt he had a temper.”

Born in Baghdad in 1943, Mr Saatchi left Iraq for the UK with his family as a child, and went to school in London.

After working as a copywriter, he went on to found advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi

with his younger brother Maurice, now Lord Saatchi.

Charles Saatchi has gone on to become arguably more famous for his art collecting, after making a name for himself in the industry by bringing young British artists including Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and Marc Quinn to the forefront and making household names of them.

Team sports

The Grillo sisters’ trial was left hanging in the balance after Prime Minister David Cameron voiced his support for ‘Team Nigella’ halfway through proceedings.

Mr Cameron’s comments, made in an interview in the Spectator, prompted the defence to renew calls for the trial to be stopped amid concerns that an “endorsement” for Ms Lawson would influence the jury.

The trial did not collapse, but Mr Cameron received a stern rebuke from judge Robin Johnson.

As the prosecution reached the end of its

case, Mr Cameron was quoted in the interview as admitting he was on ‘Team Nigella’.

 

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