Thursday 21 September 2017

Saatchi told jury he adored her but he smeared Nigella's name

Lawson hits out as ex- aides are cleared

Charles Saatchi at court during the trial
Charles Saatchi at court during the trial
Celebrity chef Nigella Lawson leaves Isleworth Crown Court in west London last week.

Gordon Rayner

HE told a jury that he still "adored" Nigella Lawson, but behind the scenes Charles Saatchi has, for months, been busily doing everything in his power to smear his ex-wife's reputation.

Two former aides to Ms Lawson were cleared of fraudulently spending £685,000 (€818,353) on company credit cards.

But the trial of Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo was overshadowed by disclosures of the TV cook's cocaine and cannabis use.

Last night, Ms Lawson bitterly criticised the court process, and her ordeal in the witness box, saying she had been "maliciously vilified" by allegations that became a "ridiculous sideshow" making justice "impossible".

Ms Lawson admitted to cocaine use and smoking cannabis in front of her children, but said she had been the victim of a "sustained background campaign deliberately designed to destroy my reputation".

But long before Ms Lawson admitted to cocaine abuse, Mr Saatchi made sure newspapers were aware of it by allowing a middle-man to tip them off about legal letters in which the drug allegations were aired.

And even as the trial of two former aides reached its conclusion, the same middle-man was briefing newspapers that Miss Lawson had started her affair with Mr Saatchi six months before her first husband, John Diamond, died of cancer, contrary to what she told the jury.

He insisted Mr Saatchi should not be identified as the source, as he did not want the public to think he had "done the dirty" on Ms Lawson.

Little wonder that a barrister suggested the legal process had been "manipulated" by the divorcees as a "convenient forum" for them to air their grievances against each other like two "devouring animals".

When Elisabetta Grillo (35) and her 41-year-old sister Francesca were arrested on suspicion of fraud in August last year, Mr Saatchi and Ms Lawson were still married -- happily so, as far as the outside world knew. For almost a year, the investigation, and a separate civil claim against the Grillos, rumbled on unnoticed.

But on June 9, Mr Saatchi's 70th birthday, a celebration lunch at Scott's in Mayfair changed everything.

HUMILIATING

The meal at a pavement table descended into a row, captured in excruciating detail by a newspaper photographer, whose pictures of Mr Saatchi holding his 53-year-old wife by the throat and examining her nostrils appeared on the front page of a tabloid the following Sunday.

Mr Saatchi tried to play down the incident as a "playful tiff" but then accepted a police caution for assault. Ms Lawson moved out. The marriage was over.

When their divorce came through at the end of July, it transpired that Ms Lawson had instigated proceedings on the grounds of Mr Saatchi's unreasonable behaviour.

The intensely private Mr Saatchi, angry that he had been portrayed as the villain of the piece, began to look for ways of salvaging his reputation.

The answer fell into his lap in early October when two "witness statements" signed by the Grillo sisters, making a series of lurid allegations about Ms Lawson's drug-taking, were published on the internet blog of Richard Hillgrove, whose company Hillgrove PR specialises in "proactive" public relations, and who had been hired by the Grillo sisters.

The statements were quickly taken down from the internet following an intervention from Ms Lawson's lawyers, but not before a newspaper had downloaded them and sent them to Mr Saatchi for comment.

He emailed Ms Lawson on October 10 -- using a different email account from his usual one because she had blocked his calls and emails -- accusing her of being "off her head" on cocaine, calling her "Higella" and suggesting she had "poisoned" her daughter Cosima by letting her take drugs.

Ms Lawson was so unnerved that she told the Crown Prosecution Service she no longer wanted to give evidence, knowing she would be cross-examined on her drug use if she did.

Newspapers were tipped off about the existence of the letter, in which Mr Saatchi said he had "no reason to disbelieve" the allegations of drug abuse, and about Mr Saatchi's intentions of filing a High Court writ containing the drug claims.

Mr Saatchi authorised a source to tell journalists he wanted "the truth" about the restaurant row to be made public. The clear implication of the drug allegations, coupled with photographs of Mr Saatchi examining Ms Lawson's nose, was that he was confronting her over cocaine use -- something they both denied in court.

Ms Lawson, who had reversed her decision not to give evidence when she was told the trial would be going ahead, had handed the "Higella" email to her legal team, which the judge ruled should form part of the case.

It meant Ms Lawson was forced to spend two humiliating days in the witness box, confessing to her cocaine and cannabis use for the first time as she accused Mr Saatchi of "peddling" stories about her and trying to "destroy" her because she would not go back to him. (Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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