Nigella Lawson’s former assistants cleared on fraud charges: what next?

Nigella Lawson

Way back in May, we all received quite a shock when Charles Saatchi choked Nigella Lawson in public. The immediate aftermath was very sudden. Nigella moved out of the family home. Saatchi threw some big baby fits. He tried to win her back by threatening suicide. When that didn’t work, Saatchi announced he was divorcing Nigella because she didn’t defend him. To her credit, Nigella kept her silence and ignored the whiny toddler in the room.

Then came the fraud suit (for $1.02 million) against Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo, the two former assistants of Nigella and Saatchi. The trial quickly turned into a major smear campaign against Nigella. The sisters painted her as a raging cokehead who handed over Saatchi’s personal credit card in exchange for the sisters’ silence. Nigella admitted coke use on a few occasions but insisted she was not an addict. She also gave details of Saatchi’s “intimate terrorism” that were scary and wholly believable. The trial dragged on for weeks. Now the dodgy Grillo sisters have been declared not guilty of fraud:

Two sisters who worked as aides for Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi have been found not guilty of fraud.

Francesca Grillo, 35, and her sister Elisabetta, 41, were alleged to have used company credit cards to spend £685,000 on items for themselves including designer shoes and clothes.

The Italian sisters were employed as PAs by the TV cook and her multimillionaire art dealer ex-husband Charles Saatchi, who were divorced earlier this year. A jury at Isleworth Crown Court took eight hours and 52 minutes to clear the pair of the charges against them.

After hearing the verdicts, Francesca could be seen smiling and talking excitedly in Italian on her phone as she was being hugged by a supporter.

She told Sky News she was “extremely excited and pleased” to have been found innocent. Anthony Metzer QC, representing Elisabetta, said his client was “relieved” and “crying her eyes out”. Mr Metzer said he was “incredibly thrilled and delighted for both of them” and wanted to thank the jury for their attention during the trial.

Scotland Yard has confirmed that it will not investigate claims made in court that Ms Lawson took cocaine, but will review the decision if new evidence comes to light.

Sky News can now report that defence lawyers applied to have the case thrown out after arguing that comments made by public figures, including Prime Minister David Cameron, meant they could not receive a fair trial.

Asked by Spectator editor Fraser Nelson if he was on “Team Nigella”, Mr Cameron replied he was a “massive fan” and described the cook as a “very funny and warm person”.

Judge Robin Johnson told the jury to ignore the Prime Minister’s “regrettable” comments after defence lawyers claimed he had “tied himself to the vast majority of the prosecution witnesses.”

Mr Saatchi had been accused of using the trial against the Grillo sisters to “attack” his former wife. The high-profile marriage suddenly and publicly fell apart after he was photographed clasping Ms Lawson’s throat at Scott’s restaurant in Mayfair earlier this year. Mr Metzer, defence counsel for Elisabetta Grillo, said she was caught in the “crossfire” between the former couple.

[From Sky News]

This was never really a trial about the Grillo sisters. Instead it was all about Saatchi dragging Nigella through the mud and trashing her public reputation. Does Saatchi really think that people finding out about Nigella’s occasional drug use will make him look like a stellar husband or something? Ha. We all know what a d-bag this guy is. Saatchi may have secured a new trophy girlfriend, but sooner or later he’ll show his colors again.

On a related note, the Guardian printed an excellent column a few weeks ago. Author Victoria Cohen Mitchell spoke very eloquently about Nigella’s 1st husband, John Diamond. Mitchell says that during Diamond’s dying days, he also tried to talk her into indulging in a bit of cocaine to escape his terminal diagnosis. Mitchell also says, “I’ve never seen Nigella take drugs. In 15 years, I’ve only once seen her slightly drunk. It’s hard to think of anyone I know for whom the expression ‘off her head’ is less appropriate.” The column is amazing, and Nigella fans will find it a great read.

Nigella Lawson

Charles Saatchi

Photos courtesy of WENN

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44 Responses to “Nigella Lawson’s former assistants cleared on fraud charges: what next?”

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  1. Sixer says:

    I loved John Diamond. His columns – and book, C Because Cowards Get Cancer Too – were/are tremendously affecting.

    Thank heavens it’s over, whatever the verdict. Nigella can leave it all behind.

    • GoodNamesAllTaken says:

      I agree. I’m puzzled as to how they got off, but in the end, I’m just glad it’s over. He tried to smear Nigella and it backfired. Now she can move on.

  2. T.C. says:

    So because David Cameron said he is on Team Nigella the case was thrown out? So Nigella was the one on trial this entire time not the two assistants who stole over half a million dollars. Unbelievable. No wonder she never reported her husband’s domestic abuse. She knew he would find a way to take her down.

    • Montréalise says:

      The case wasn’t thrown out (i.e. dismissed) – the defendants were acquitted of the charges against them. The amount of money they were accused of stealing wasn’t half a million dollars – it was almost 700,000 British pounds, which comes to over a million dollars.

      • gefeylich says:

        And that amount is a drop in the bucket to gajillionaire Saatchi (who in the above photo DOES look like a pickled walnut, as the fabulous Sali Hughes noted). It was a infinitesimal price for him to pay to attempt to throw major shade at Lawson.

        Unfortunately for him, it was totally transparent and just makes him look like even more like a douchebag than he did before. Everyone still thinks he’s a narcissistic asshat.

  3. gg says:

    What the WHAT? This seriously pisses me off. Yoo-hoo, assistants of filthy rich people – feel free to buy all the overpriced crap you can find and treat yourself, because it’s now okay to rip off your employer. Nigella can come on over to the States for good now – we like her here and acknowledge this ridiculous travesty of justice.

    I’m convince that Trinny is not his girlfriend and is merely another PR move for this #$$hole.

    • littlestar says:

      What doesn’t make sense to me, and I haven’t read anything about it anywhere, is who was paying that credit card off that they were using? If they spent over half a million pounds using a credit card (or was it more than one?), someone had to have been making monthly payments on it, right? So wouldn’t that mean someone else knew the assistants were using the cards to buy things like shoes and handbags?

      • LAK says:

        The accountant was paying it off. Apparently he incrementally increased the monthly limits without consulting Saatchi who didn’t want to be bothered by such trivia. The accountant seemed to have been told never to scrutnise household bills which was the umbrella for all the cards the assistants used. Only to pay them off.

        The cards balance was paid off every month from Saatchi’s personal bank account, again authorised by the accountant.

        rich people issues!!!

        Here is an extract from his testimony:

        http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/sisters-embezzled-almost-700000-from-charles-saatchi-and-nigella-lawson-in-globetrotting-luxury-spending-sprees-court-told-8967096.html

      • Alina says:

        yes, i think this is why the sisters were found not guilty. Someone knew and accepted what the sisters were doing…
        … maybe the sisters say the truth and they had been told to spend what they want, and that there was a tacit agreement with Nigella that this was ok so long as they didn’t reveal her alleged drug use or her horror marriage.

      • Montréalise says:

        The accountant paid off the credit cards. Since the Saatchi family was very wealthy, the charges on the card – designer clothes and handbags, first-class airline tickets and five-star hotels – were similar to those of the family. So when the accountant saw, for instance, purchases at Chanel boutiques, he didn’t ask questions because this is where Nigella, her daughter and step-daughter shopped. The sisters were pretty clever in that regard.

      • Thinker says:

        So the sisters did, in fact, spend nearly a million dollars on purchases for themselves. Interesting. In the US, if they admitted to that, circumstantial evidence could prove they were guilty of fraud. The fact they were PAs and were regularly shopping at Chanel for themselves is ridiculous, clearly they were making the purchases look like Nigella and the kids. That’s a fraudulent misrepresentation.

  4. Green Eggs and Ham says:

    He ex-husband used the trial to expose her; it worked.

    • littlestar says:

      Not really. It backfired on him and made him look 100 times worse than Nigella.

    • anna says:

      Expose what, exactly? That she’s done drugs occasionally, just like a fair number of adults her age? That she turned to them when she was grieving to take the edge off? No. People still love her and will continue to.

    • gg says:

      Even if she were a big coke and pothead, I fail to see any connection between her husband’s paid assistants’ greedy and flagrant purchases and her own personal issues.

      • Montréalise says:

        I don’t see a connection, either. Even if the PA’s claims were true (that they regularly found evidence of drug use in Nigella’s purse and her desk drawers) they admitted that they never saw her use drugs, ever; and that neither they nor she ever discussed or even hinted at what they found. So their whole reasoning as to why they brought up the alleged drug use – that Nigella allowed them to spend wildly so they wouldn’t tell her husband about the drugs – makes no sense. After all, if you’re going to blackmail someone (which is what their defence boils down to), shouldn’t the blackmailer and the victim have a mutual understanding of the terms of the agreement?

    • gefeylich says:

      It only “worked” to make Saatchi seem even more like a narcissistic, abusive, manipulative asshat who just won’t let it go. He and Lawson are divorced (which he instigated). She received none of his bazillions (she doesn’t need them). He supposedly has another girlfriend (Trinny from “What Not To Wear,” who WAS an avowed coke addict). But for some reason, the repulsive Mr. Saatchi just can’t move on.

  5. bluhare says:

    I am totally disgusted. Totally. I guess that’s what starting a huge advertising firm gets you; lots of publicity to taint things because that’s what I think happened.

    The only good thing I can think of in this whole thing is at least it was Saatchi’s money and not Nigella’s. I wonder what he’ll do to these two? Rehire them?

  6. Narak says:

    The sisters were found not guilty, the trial smeared Nigella, Saatchi come across as a cruel man- and now he can privately crush the sisters. Ill bet they never work again.

    • Montréalise says:

      Even though the sisters were acquitted, they served his purpose, which was to make good on his threat to destroy his ex-wife’s reputation.

      • Londerland says:

        He’s tried to destroy her reputation but I don’t think he’s succeeded. I don’t know anyone whose opinion of Nigella is worse because of this case; if anything, people seem to think “no wonder she took coke if she was married to him”.

  7. Christne says:

    Disgusting.

  8. Alina says:

    an addict with emotional issues and an obscene rich dominant male = match made in hell

    • anna says:

      I highly doubt she’s an addict.

      • gefeylich says:

        What everyone seems to be ignoring is that if Lawson HAD been a drug addict for all these years, the British tabloids would have ferreted it out long ago. They’re relentless. So – she’s not an addict, just a sometime user of recreational drugs. I’ll bet a lot of people on this site would fit that description. So would a lot of people in the US AND the UK. Big freaking deal.

      • jaye says:

        Didn’t she say that she used coke a handful of times with her dying husband? I seem to remember in excerpts from her testimony that she used pot to escape from the stress of being married to that awful ex-husband of hers.

    • Jaded says:

      Oh FFS, she’s not an addict. She took a few snorts and puffs while her beloved husband was dying of cancer. Do you think she could do what she’s doing as an addict? I watched her 1 hour Nigellisima Christmas special last night and she was wonderful, looked fabulous and was as lovely and witty as ever.

  9. Harriet says:

    It really did feel like a way for Saatchi to try and bring down his wife. I personally don’t feel she’s been affected by it. Everyone I speak to in England about it is Team Nigella all the way.

  10. Reece says:

    BULLS**T!!! This was to try to drag her through the mud.

  11. LAK says:

    Can i just say that although this post is about Nigella, i adore Victoria Coren too. And her brother Giles. Never miss their writings where ever i find them.

    on topic, team Nigella!

    • Harriet says:

      + 1. I love that Victoria Coren is married to David Mitchell too! :) I like AA Gill over Giles though.

      • LAK says:

        OMG…..i got on a bus in Sth Ken last week and sat down next to AA Gill. Firstly, AA Gill!!! then the clothes….he was wearing the biggest fur collar on a coat i’ve ever seen. it made his head look like a pin. I tried really hard not to stare and to hope that if i did say something, it would be intelligent.i love AA Gill too.

        And i love that VC is married to DM. Too cute for words. And right. Is it possible to fangirl a relationship?

      • Harriet says:

        You saw AA Gill! Him and Paxo I would be too petrified to say anything. And yeah the VC-DM is majorly cute. I fangirl that relationship. I’m sure it’s allowed.

        If we are going back to topic, I learnt to cook with Nigella books and her writing is a joy too!

      • LAK says:

        Nigella gave me confidence in the kitchen. I love how she cooks. i think i have all her cook books.

        Although when i travel abroad for lengths of time and i have to cook, i turn to Delia. She works for me because her ingredients are really basic so i don’t have to look far and wide for them. She definitely saved the day when i was stuck in the USA one year and was desperate for mince pies and mulled wine.

        Paxo is terrifying, but i have this friend who sort of knows him who says he is a pussycat……..

      • Londerland says:

        Ah, Victoria Coren and David Mitchell are just so bloody perfect as a couple! Love them both.

  12. Montréalise says:

    Since this was a criminal, not a civil, trial, the standard of proof was “beyond a reasonable doubt” – i.e. the defendants were acquitted because the jury obviously thought that there was a reasonable doubt that Nigella had authorized the transactions. The standard in a civil case would be “what is most probable”, and I think that by that standard we can agree that it’s very unlikely that Nigella would have authorized over a million dollars’ worth of personal purchases. The jurors probably thought that while it was very unlikely, it wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility – hence the acquittal.

  13. Han says:

    That was an excellent column, glad people that know her family speak up. I feel for Nigella, its quite disgusting how her name was dragged through the mud in this case.

  14. truthful says:

    The verdict has kinda pissed me off, they drag Nigella but get to “return” the goods and all is forgiven??

    I am miffed

    • gefeylich says:

      This was probably promised to these sisters if they “told tales” on Lawson, which was the true purpose of this trial. The idea that Saatchi would care if he lost 700,000 pounds is ludicrous – you know there was credit card insurance against fraud AND one of his accountants okayed the purchases, which were tiny in the scheme of Saatchi’s billions. Nah, the only reason he “pressed charges against the thieves” was to attempt to discredit and humiliate Lawson for her terrible “betrayal” of him. Yeah, Saatchi is ugly inside and out.

  15. Bored suburbanhousewife says:

    After reading all the testimony, I was certain there was no way that a jury could find the Grillos guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. It appeared 5 or 6 assistants had these cards and that no one was reviewing the statements each month to determine the nature of the charges, nor were receipts required or scrutininized. It was a situation that was bound to lead to ambiguity at best and abuse at worst. It was unclear also whether the charges for flights and hotels were personal trips away for the Grillos or whether the Grillos were taking the children on trips and using the cards to cover everyone’s expenses which apparently was part of the job. They were pretty clearly given a lot of discretion if not individual authorization for each expenditure. Over time they probably began to push the limits and when no one said anything for years at a time they figured there were no limits. I think they only brought up drug use and an implicit bargain to cover for Nigellla after Charles leaked the email accusing her of drug use. One defense barrister also explicitly argued that Saatchi was enraged at Nigella and used the Grillos to attack her, and one of the things he was mad about was that Nigella was overly generous with her extended family. Saatchi and his accountant seemed to have an MO–a former employee of his business testified that the same thing was done to her. She was given a card with discretion to buy things for the art business, then one day got called in and accused of abusing the privilege. They frightened her into leaving and signing a confidentiality agreement.

    I think Nigella might well use cocaine more than she admits when she is dead lining for a book. So what, it’s not unusual and I know many respectable writers who routinely use Adderall when they are writing to boost their productivity and sharpen their focus. But it should never have been brought up as an issue. One article I read suggested it was only brought up in order to cross examine her–not sure why or what this means, perhaps someone knowledgeable about English legal procedure would know.

    Another question I have–had they been guilty would they have gone to jail for fraud? Saatchi cannot have hoped to recover any money from them of this was a civil proceeding.

  16. George Dalton says:

    If this was a criminal trial does the tax payer foot the bill? If so then it is another piece of evidence of how nonsensical the UK law system is. Here we have two filthly rich, irresponsible “famous” people, one earning over £50M selling books, who decide to trash each other publicly and to use their unfortunate poor Italian “goffers” as the tool to achieve this. Allegations having been proved wrong, costs should be paid by these rich vindictive greedy people. How anyone can worry about repercussions of the trial on their dubious reputations beats me. The PPO should be made to answer for bringing such a trial, and for bringing many other such farces. You lot who worry about Nigella should be thinking about the misuse of tax payers money. Tax payers in general cannot afford such luxuries.

    • Montréalise says:

      Yes, the tax payer does foot the bill, but there were never TWO people pursuing this – only one. All Nigella wanted was to get away from Saatchi, and she even gave up all of her property rights in the divorce in the hope he would let her go quietly; but no, he was determined to “punish” her for leaving him, and if this vindictive little man used the criminal court system to pursue his vendetta against her.

  17. Tania says:

    I have always liked Nigella but never really followed her. If anything, I like her more now. She should come to the US/Canada. She has a lot of supporters here. I was surprised at the DM’s take on this. A lot of the articles I’ve read there over the past few days have stated things like “Nigella ruined”, which I don’t feel is the case. Is that what people are thinking over in England? And as an aside, what bajillionaire pays their PA only 25K per year? That is slave labour. London is crazy expensive. Surely there must have been some sort of allowances made, no? I am sure those girls hid their spending, but surely “some” allowance must have been offered?

  18. Baskingshark says:

    What next, you ask? Why it’s now a wild free for all. The Grillos are slime-slamming Nigella with stories about how she binged on coke, pot, KFC and chocolate and swung from being an “Energizer Bunny” to a “Zombie” while she stayed up all night writing cookbooks, Saatchi wants to sue the Grillos, the Grillos want to sue Saatchi, the Grillos’ possibly-Mafioso father basically called Nigella a cokewhore and at the centre of it all, Nigella is increasingly looking like the heroine of an Almodovar or John Waters movie as she twitches her botoxed face, looking like she’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown as she vows vengeance on Saatchi and to Go. On. Cooking.

    This story gonna run and run