20 December 2013
Last updated at 12:13 ET
The sisters (left) were alleged to have spent £685,000 on credit cards
Nigella Lawson has said she is “disappointed but unsurprised” that two sisters who worked as her personal assistants have been cleared of fraud.
The trial of Francesca Grillo, 35, and sister Elisabetta, 41, heard they spent £685,000 on credit cards owned by the TV cook and ex-husband Charles Saatchi.
They claimed the TV cook allowed their spending to cover up her cocaine use.
Ms Lawson, 53, said her experience as a witness was “deeply disturbing” and she had been “maliciously vilified”.
Following the verdict, Ms 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 CPS 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.”
Her ex-husband, the 70-year-old businessman and art dealer Mr Saatchi has yet to comment about the case.
During the trial, the jury was read extracts of an email he sent to his ex-wife in which he called her “Higella”, in reference to drug use.
In the email he also wrote: “Of course now the Grillos will get off on the basis that you… were so off your heads 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.”
Giving evidence later in the trial, Mr Saatchi claimed it was a “terrible, terrible mistake” that the correspondence had become public.
‘No drug problem’
Midway though the trial, Judge Robin Johnson warned the jury to ignore comments made in support of Ms Lawson in an interview given by Prime Minister David Cameron to the Spectator magazine.
Following Friday’s not guilty verdicts, solicitor Richard Cannon said the Grillo sisters were “naturally relieved” by the verdict, following a “long, hard fight played out in the gaze of the world’s media”.
The trial at Isleworth Crown Court heard the sisters fraudulently used credit cards loaned to them by the couple, splashing out on designer goods from Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Vivienne Westwood.
Continue reading the main story
This trial was always going to be a tabloid, headline writers dream.
A TV celebrity with a squeaky clean image, allegations of drug taking, chaotic parenting and domestic violence, tales of fur coats costing £500,000 and even an intervention by the prime minister who claimed he too was a member of Team Nigella.
That earned him a rebuke from the trial judge.
This trial wasn’t just a legal process – it became a battle for credibility.
On one, side two sisters from a village in Calabria introduced to a life of fame and money.
On the other – a household name – the “domestic goddess” and of course her millionaire art collector ex-husband, who we now know likes burnt toast and weak tea for breakfast.
But at the heart of the trial was a family bent out of shape by a marriage in freefall, where friendships too became poisoned by anger and jealousy and of course eye-watering amounts of money.
Francesca Grillo was accused of spending £580,000 on herself.
But she and her sister insisted all of their purchases had been authorised.
The Grillos claimed Ms Lawson consented to their spending as they 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”.
Giving evidence, Ms Lawson admitted taking cocaine a handful of times with her late husband John Diamond and once during her marriage to Mr Saatchi.
She claimed her 10-year marriage to Mr Saatchi had become unhappy and drugs had made an “intolerable situation tolerable”.
However, she denied being an addict or having a drug problem. The television cook said she was “not proud” but would rather be “honest and ashamed” about what she had done than lie about it.
She and Mr Saatchi split up after images emerged of his hand around Ms Lawson’s throat at a London restaurant.
Ms Lawson told the trial she had taken drugs in the later years of her marriage to the multi-millionaire after being subjected to “intimate terrorism” by him.
Elisabetta Grillo, who was rushed to hospital on Thursday night after a panic attack, was with her sister in another room in the court as the verdicts were read out. She had collapsed again earlier as she arrived at the building.
The Grillo sisters each denied a single count of committing fraud
After hearing the verdicts, Francesca Grillo declared in Italian: “There is a God.”
Speaking outside court, Mr Cannon said: “Elisabetta and Francesca would like to thank their friends and relatives for their love and support.”
The Grillos, of Bayswater, west London, each denied a single count of committing fraud by using a company credit card for personal gain between 1 January 2008 and 31 December 2012.
After the three-week trial, the jury of seven men and five women rejected the prosecution’s claims that the purchases on the cards had been unauthorised.
Scotland Yard said it would not be investigating the drug-taking allegations made during the trial, although it said this could change if new evidence came to light.