UK & World News

  • 20 December 2013, 15:46

Nigella Case Lifted Lid On Lavish Lifestyle

When they called in the police to arrest the sisters who used to clean their home, Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson could never have imagined that so much of their dirty laundry would be aired in public.

To members of the public with only a passing interest in the case, it must have appeared that it was the now divorced couple who were on trial rather than their former employees.

The Grillo sisters may have been in the dock, but their trial lifted the lid on their employers' lifestyle and the disintegration of their marriage.

The court heard details of lavish spending by both the accused and the family they worked for. It was never clear exactly how much Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo were accused of spending. Estimates of around £300,000 to £700,000 were mentioned, but such was the lack of oversight of spending of household spending that nobody could be sure what was spent on behalf of family members and how much the sisters had spent on themselves.

The Grillos never disputed spending the money, though they argued that some items attributed to them were actually for members of the household. They insisted everything was authorised and known about by either Ms Lawson or Mr Saatchi.

That included numerous personal holidays to New York, Prague, Venice, Berlin and Paris. The sisters maintained they were given permission to buy themselves gifts as a reward for their hard work.

Eighteen months ago, when the levels of expenditure first came to light, Ms Lawson appeared to have all the ingredients for domestic bliss. She was the TV cook known to millions of viewers; her husband was the man who made millions of pounds from advertising and art collecting.

But a year later they were famous for something quite different - an incident in a Mayfair restaurant captured by a photographer which led to Mr Saatchi accepting a police caution, and led to Ms Lawson seeking a divorce. There were two photographs in particular which were discussed during the trial. One pictured Mr Saatchi with his hands around his wife's throat, the other showed him pinching her nose.

That incident led to Ms Lawson and her assistants dubbed Team Cupcake to move out of Mr Saatchi's home in Chelsea. It also led the Grillo sisters to bring new information to the police. They said Ms Lawson was a regular drug user, information the defence would use to try to undermine her credibility as a witness.

Ms Lawson found herself in the role of the accused. When Mr Saatchi heard about the allegations, he sent her an angry email entitled Higella.

"I can only laugh at your sorry depravity," it said. "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.

"I'm sure it was all great fun and now everything is perfect - bravo, you have become a celebrity hostess on a global TV game show. And you got the pass you desired, free to heartily enjoy all the drugs you want, forever. Classy."

During his evidence to the jury, Mr Saatchi said he was "bereft" that a private email had been made public. It entered the public domain because Ms Lawson considered it threatening and forwarded it to her lawyers. They in turn informed the Crown Prosecution Service, and it became part of the evidence in the trial. The Judge Robin Johnson took the unusual step of permitting it to be aired in the media even before a jury in the trial had been sworn in.

In court, he backtracked a little. He had believed the drug allegations but he had no proof. "Over this whole period she was writing books very successfully. I have never, never seen any evidence of Nigella taking drugs," he said.

When Ms Lawson came to court to give evidence she admitted having used cocaine and cannabis but denied she was addicted.

"If I was taking drugs to the extent you say I wouldn't be able to stand up here today," she said. "Regular cocaine users do not look like this. They are scrawny and unhealthy. If you think I would sabotage my health and leave my children orphans, you are wrong."

She said she first used cocaine while married to her terminally ill husband John Diamond in 2001, and once while depressed in 2010. She admitted more regular use of cannabis, including the fact that she smoked joints in front of her teenage children.

But she hit back at her ex-husband, accusing him of intimate terrorism. And she said she did not have a drug problem, telling the court: "I have a life problem."

"I was having a very very difficult time," she said. "I felt subjected to intimate terrorism by Mr Saatchi. I felt totally shamed isolated and in fear. A friend offered it to me and I took it. It completely spooked me."

She was furious that as a witness in the case she had no right to introduce evidence about her own reputation which had taken such a hammering.

Everyone, it seemed, had a opinion on the central characters, including the Prime Minister. His pro-Nigella comments in an interview held up proceedings and drew criticism from the judge.

We can now report that Judge Robin Johnson was asked to throw out the case because the defence argued the comments meant their clients could not get a fair trial. The judge allowed it to continue but rebuked public figures for commenting on trials which were still in progress.

There was other drama behind the scenes which could not be reported while the trial was in progress. Elisabetta Grillo, or Lisa as she was usually called, collapsed while the jury were deliberating over their verdict.

Her barrister Anthony Metzer told reporters she was not breathing. She has a history of claustrophobia and panic attacks. Paramedics were called and neither she nor her sister were able to be in court when the jury were being sent home for the night.

And there were frequent terse spats between Mr Metzer and the judge, particularly over the drugs issue. Their relationship appeared to be so strained that the judge warned the jury not to take it into account when reaching their verdicts.

If Mr Saatchi had his way this would never have come to trial. He initially thought the sisters had simply been naughty. He did not want to fire them, but he did want them to pay a penance by working on a reduced salary. It was Ms Lawson who was unforgiving and insisted on calling the police.

But having heard evidence of years of household spending which went largely unchecked, the jury acquitted the sisters of fraud. It is Ms Lawson and Mr Saatchi who have paid a high price, and not just for designer clothes and luxuries. Their reputations have been scrutinised and criticised in the court of public opinion.

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