UK & World News

  • 18 December 2013, 18:49

Nigella Aide 'Caught In Saatchi's Cross-Fire'

Charles Saatchi has been accused of using the trial of two former assistants to attack his former wife Nigella Lawson.

Elisabetta Grillo, 41, is accused with her sister Francesca, 35, of lying that expenditure on a credit card given to her by Ms Lawson had been authorised by the couple, who divorced earlier this year.

Anthony Metzer QC, defending, said Elisabetta had been caught in the "cross-fire" between the pair.

"Could it be Mr Saatchi was using this as a way to attack Ms Lawson by proxy?" he asked the jury.

"By turning on one of her most trusted and loved people?"

He said that as the relationship unravelled "the extravagant way Ms Lawson kept her family in his money was now a legitimate place for him to exert his feelings".

A former personal assistant of Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi, who is accused of defrauding the couple of £685,000, has denied being a fantasist or a shopaholic.

Isleworth Crown Court has heard the siblings bought designer clothes, shoes and luxury holidays on the cards.

But Francesca Grillo told the jury she was neither a shopaholic nor a fantasist.

"I don't think I'm a fantasist as Ms Lawson suggested. I would have to disagree," she said.

Prosecutor Jane Carpenter said Ms Grillo had admitted being a "shopaholic" in a phone call after the allegations of fraud came to light, but Ms Grillo replied: "I don't think so."

"They were my family," she added. "I was very, very lucky. They loved me, I loved them back. Despite being here defending myself ? I still have feelings for them."

Ms Grillo claimed that during trips to her native Italy while employed by the Saatchi-Lawson family, she would use the credit card to buy food items and props for Ms Lawson which were used in the book.

Asked why she offered to pay back money when she was confronted with allegations of misuing the card, Ms Grillo said she had hoped things would get back to normal.

"It's difficult for people to understand how close I was to these people," she said "It's not like any person down the street. You want to make things better."

The Grillos both deny committing fraud by using a company credit card for personal gain.

Karina Arden, defending Francesca Grillo, repeated Ms Lawson's admission of drug use in her evidence and said the jury must consider her credibility.

"Look at her evidence the same way you would someone, dare I say, living on an estate," she said.

"You must not elevate her to a lesser degree of questioning her credibility on things because she is a famous person."

Ms Arden said it was "inconceivable" that Ms Lawson would not have known about Francesca's foreign trips, or that the defendant could have "got away with it" if she hadn't already been authorised to use the company card by her employer.

Summing up, Prosecutor Ms Carpenter stressed the jury had to remember the sisters were the ones facing charges.

"It might have seemed at times that other people were on trial," she told them, saying that she was referring to Mr Saatchi and Ms Lawson.

She described it as "utter nonsense" the celebrity pair would authorise the Grillos' alleged level of personal expenditure.

Judge Robin Johnson told the jury they had to decide whether the Grillos had behaved dishonestly.

"If it was dishonest, you must decide if the defendant realised what she was doing was dishonest," he said, adding that authorisation for purchases could have been specific or implied.

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