Admittedly, they are defending themselves in court against serious charges of fraud, but Nigella Lawson’s former assistants, two sisters, have turned around today with some extraordinary allegations. They have claimed their ex-boss, the TV chef, regularly took cocaine, and other drugs, in a ten-year habit that she swore them to secrecy over. By implication, they were therefore free to help themselves to use of her credit cards.
Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo, Italian sisters, are up before the judge at Isleworth crown court in west London this week, accused of taking over £300,000 worth of defrauded goods from the then Mr and Mrs Saatchi’s credit cards. Nigella was divorced from Charles Saatchi, in a quick annulment, this summer.
The defendants were arrested on these charges at the beginning of August 2012. Jane Carpenter, QC, representing Ms Lawson, is questioning why these claims were not put forward at that time. Carpenter’s case is that the Grillo sisters made their responsibility quite clear, in a letter they addressed to both Lawson and Saatchi.
Jane Carpenter read out the letter in court:
Dear Charles and Nigella, we are at our utmost despair and we are reaching out to you in the sincere hope that somewhere in your hearts you can find a way to forgive us. We truly believe we had a bond like a family, you were like, as you said to us, like our English family. We saw you like a mother and father figure. There is not a worse feeling than that. All we want to do is put this right and make amends. We plead with you to find a way in your hearts to stop the fighting that’s destroying us. From the bottom of our hearts we extend an olive branch in the hope that you understand that we never meant to hurt you in anyway. Please forgive us and help us to put this right.
The subsequent allegations about drug use came up at a pre-trial hearing on November 15. Jane Carpenter says it is “totally scurrilous” that the Grillos waited almost a year to present this claim in their own defence. On that date, Anthony Metzer, representing Elisabetta Grillo, made an application to present a “bad character” order over Nigella Lawson, which would question her reliability as a witness. He then told the court about the allegations of the Class A and class B drug use and alleged “unauthorized use” of prescription medicines.
Metzer went on the state that this was a “guilty secret” that Nigella did not want her then husband to know about, and as a consequence, the sisters had a “tacit understanding” that they could spend what they liked on themselves. They bought designer clothes, first class air travel and travelled everywhere by taxi. He referred to the Grillo sisters as “innocent pawns.”
Today, Judge Robin Johnson lifted reporting restrictions on the claims after he decided that am email from Charles Saatchi appeared to accept what the sisters had said.
Judge Johnson read extracts from the email, in which Saatchi refers to his ex-wife as “Higella” He wrote “Of course now the Grillos will get off on the basis that you were so off your head on drugs you allowed the sisters to spend whatever they liked … And yes I believe every word they have said.”
Metzer has also put a new spin on the much publicized public row that Saatchi was seen to have with Nigella at an outside table at Scotts restaurant in London. He was photographed grabbing her by the throat. Metzer surmises that this may well be connected to the drug taking allegations and the “issue before the court.” That is, whether Nigella sanctioned her assistants to use the credit cards in return for their silence. Saatchi was cautioned for assault after this incident and very soon afterwards, their ten-year marriage was pronounced over.
In what has already been a tumultuous and tremendously stressful year in the lives of this high-profile family, this latest twist in the tale will surely come as yet another body blow. Nigella had been said to have thrown herself back into work and has been filming for The Taste, a Channel 4 show based on an American format. She is one of the judges.
Nigella,53, has had a lot of tragedy in her life, losing both her mother and sister to breast cancer, and her first husband, John Diamond, to cancer. Saatchi,70, made a fortune in advertising and has gone on to become an art tycoon. He has plunged back into the dating scene and is seeing Trinny Woodall.
Many questions spring to mind over today’s allegations. It will be for the court to determine what actually went on.
Anyone who has ever watched The Devil Wears Prada can appreciate the delicate, often fraught, relationships between personal assistants and those they are paid to assist. In this case, whether these sisters are telling the truth or not will eventually determine their fate – and that of their ex-employees.
By Kate Henderson