A London jury has acquitted two former longtime personal assistants for Nigella Lawson of charges they defrauded the celebrity chef and her ex-husband out of nearly $1.1 million while working for the couple.
Francesca and Elisabetta “Lisa” Grillo were accused by Lawson’s ex-husband Charles Saatchi of going on lavish personal spending sprees with the couple’s credit cards. The case against the Italian sisters drew widespread attention because of revelations that emerged early in the trial about Lawson’s drug use.
The trial is based on a lawsuit Saatchi filed against the Grillo sisters. The sisters, who worked for the family for more than 10 years, had denied the accusations and alleged that Lawson, 53, abused cocaine, marijuana and prescription drugs regularly and let them spend the money as long as they kept her secret. A jury of seven men and five women cleared the sisters after deliberating for eight hours and 52 minutes. Neither sister was present to hear the verdict because Lisa Grillo collapsed in court Friday after suffering a panic attack, according to the Central News UK's CourtNewsUK service. The sisters had been mobbed by photographers as they walked up to Isleworth Crown Court.
"We are delighted with the result and the attention the jury gave over many hours and many days,'' Karina Arden, Francesca Grillo's attorney, told CourtNewsUK.
"We are still a bit in shock — we're not the defendants, but it's been a stressful case, as you know,'' Lisa Grillo's attorney, Anthony Metzer, told CourtNewsUK.
During the trial, Lawson admitted to using cocaine when her first husband, John Diamond, was suffering from terminal cancer. She also said she used it in July 2010 to deal with the “intimate terrorism” of her marriage to ex-husband Charles Saatchi. She denied claims that there were credit cards and rolled-up bills dusted with white powder on her desk in her former home or that she was an everyday user.
She also admitted to smoking marijuana during the last year, including several times with or in front of her teenage children. The sisters claimed she had drawers full of Xanax and antidepressants, but she said it was only as prescribed.
Lawson and Saatchi split in a very public divorce earlier this year after Saatchi admitted to assaulting his wife. The admission came after photographs surfaced of him with his hands at Lawson's throat during what appeared to be a heated argument at a London restaurant.
During his testimony, Saatchi, 70, accused Lawson of being “so off her head on drugs” that she allowed the sisters to spend exorbitant amounts while working for the couple. He said that when the sisters’ accusations of Lawson’s drug use came to light, he asked other household staff and his daughter about them. He testified that he believed “Nigella had a severe cocaine habit that stretched back a very long time. She took this, and cannabis, and she shared it with her children, for a very long time.”
Early in the trial, an attorney for one of the defendants claimed the sisters were "innocent pawns in a rather unpleasant battle” between Saatchi and Lawson. He said Saatchi only learned about the drug allegations as the couple split up.
Scotland Yard will not investigate claims that Lawson took cocaine but will review the decision if new evidence comes to light, London's Metropolitain Police force said.
Scott Stump and Eun Kyung Kim
December 20, 2013
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