Ex-assistants of TV chef Nigella Lawson found not guilty of fraud

Police say after verdicts they will not investigate kitchen diva over court claims she used cocaine

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 December, 2013, 2:20am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 December, 2013, 2:20am


Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi's former personal assistants have been found not guilty of fraud at the end of a three-week trial in which the television chef was forced to admit her use of cocaine and cannabis and her art dealer ex-husband was labelled a menacing bully.

Elisabetta Grillo, 41, and her sister Francesca, 36, were not in the dock to hear the verdicts delivered by the jury of five women and seven men at Isleworth Crown Court in west London.

Elisabetta Grillo had been suffering from panic attacks and the judge allowed them to hear the news in an anteroom.

"My God, I am just shaking," said Francesca as she embraced her solicitor. "We can go home."

She hugged her barrister, Karina Arden, and her sister's barrister Anthony Metzer QC, saying: "We made it, we made it."

The jury took eight hours and 52 minutes to reach their verdict.

My God, I am just shaking. We can go home. We made it, we made it

After the case, the police said they would not investigate claims that Lawson took cocaine, but would review that decision if new evidence came to light.

Following the verdict, Lawson said: "Over the three-week trial the jury was faced with a ridiculous sideshow of false allegations about drug use which made focus on the actual criminal trial impossible.

"When false claims about habitual drug use were introduced I did everything possible to ensure the prosecution was aware of the sustained background campaign deliberately designed to destroy my reputation."

She added: "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 sisters, from Calabria in southern Italy, were accused of the fraudulent use of household credit card and taxi accounts totalling £685,000 (HK$8.7 million) between 2008 and last year.

The pair had worked for Lawson, 53, and Saatchi, 70, from the start of the couple's relationship in 2001 and were sacked over the spending as the couple's marriage was about to crumble.

During the trial the jury was told the Grillos had become "caught in the collateral crossfire" of a disintegrating relationship and had been "devoured like lambs" in a bitter dispute between the now-divorced couple.

The trial saw the Grillos make claims about the extent of Lawson's drug use. She admitted in the witness box that she had taken cocaine seven times and only once since her first husband, John Diamond, died in 2001.

She also said she had smoked cannabis "with or in front of" her children in the last year of her marriage to Saatchi and that it made "an intolerable situation tolerable". She admitted to getting others to roll joints for her because she didn't know how.

Lawson and Saatchi ended their 10-year marriage in July, and he accepted a police caution after newspapers published pictures of him with his hands around his ex-wife's neck.

Prime Minister David Cameron's "unprecedented" public backing for Lawson during the trial came close to collapsing the case because it was considered "an abuse of process". The judge ruled the case could continue, but told the jury to ignore Cameron's "regrettable" intervention in The Spectator magazine, in which he said he was in "Team Nigella".

In the immediate aftermath of the verdict, Cameron was asked if he was pleased and told journalists: "I've probably said enough about this, so I'll take the 5th."

Additional reporting by Associated Press