independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

'Stoned' Nigella may have said yes to spending, judge tells jury

Celebrity chef Nigella Lawson leaves Isleworth Crown Court in west London December 4, 2013. Lawson told a British court on Wednesday that she had taken cocaine several times but had "never been a drug addict or abuser". Lawson's two former assistants, Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo, are accused of defrauding her and her former husband Charles Saatchi out of 300,000 pounds ($484,600). REUTERS/Luke Macgregor (BRITAIN - Tags: SOCIETY CRIME LAW)
Celebrity chef Nigella Lawson leaves Isleworth Crown Court in west London last week.

A JUDGE in the trial of two sisters accused of stealing from Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson has told a jury to consider whether Nigella might have given the two aides permission to spend money on a credit card when she was "off her head" on drugs.

Judge Robin Johnson said the issue of Ms Lawson's drug-taking was relevant in deciding whether Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo were guilty of fraud.

Meanwhile, one of the barristers defending the Italian sisters suggested they had been "caught in collateral crossfire" as Charles Saatchi used the case to attack his ex-wife, likening the defendants to "children in an acrimonious divorce".

MOCKED

Referring to an email sent to Ms Lawson by Mr Saatchi, in which he mocked her as "Higella" and suggested she had authorised spending on his credit card when she was "off her head", the judge said: "Were it the case she was 'off her head' and allowed expenditure as a result, it would clearly be of relevance."

Mr Saatchi had claimed he made the "nasty" statement when he was feeling angry, and the judge said no one had seen Ms Lawson in such a state, or authorising payments in that state.

Summing up the key points in the case, he told the jury at Isleworth Crown Court in west London: "You should then consider if there is any weight to the argument that the defence made, that Nigella Lawson gave permission for this expenditure because she was worried about being shopped or exposed about this drug-taking, either to Mr Saatchi or to the authorities."

Anthony Metzer QC, defending Elisabetta, suggested Mr Saatchi, who was divorced by Ms Lawson in July, had used the trial "as a way to attack Ms Lawson by proxy".

He added: "As his relationship with Ms Lawson started to unravel and he lost control of her, he looked for a place to put his hurt and anger.

"The extravagant way Ms Lawson kept her family in his money was now a legitimate place for him to exert his feelings."

He also asked the jury if it was "credible" Ms Lawson had only taken cocaine seven times in her life, given its "highly addictive nature".

He claimed Ms Lawson "carefully honed" her evidence and gave a "rehearsed speech".

"In reality, what choice did she have? She faced compelling evidence from many sources of sustained drug use over the past 10 years."

Karina Arden, defending Francesca, suggested Ms Lawson lied about allowing the Grillo sisters to spend lavishly because she was terrified her "dark secret" of drug use would come out.

CAREER

She claimed Ms Lawson was worried that if her drug abuse became public it would ruin her new career in the US because of the country's tough stance on foreign drug abusers.

"There was an army of supervisors around her. You might think there was a massive attempt to limit the damage," she said.

And Ms Arden urged jurors to not be star-struck by Miss Lawson.

Arguing that her drug use seriously undermined her credibility as a witness, Ms Arden said: "People are charged and tried everyday for precisely that -- for possessing cocaine."

But Jane Carpenter, for the prosecution, said it was "utter nonsense" that the sisters' spending would have been sanctioned, and reminded the jury that Ms Lawson was not the one on trial.

Both defendants deny fraud. The case continues. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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