Monday 24 October 2016

The one really on trial in Grillo sisters’ case was Nigella – but she will survive

Published 21/12/2013 | 02:49

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

The acquittal of Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi's former personal assistants on fraud charges is unsurprising when one considers that they never seemed to be the ones on trial.

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Instead it was Lawson – the domestic goddess who claimed she was living in a domestic hell – who stood in the dock, her character clinically disassembled during three weeks of explosive evidence.

Elisabetta Grillo (41) and her sister Francesca (36) were accused of defrauding the couple of nearly £700,000 (€836,000) between 2008 and 2012.

The aides, who were on salaries of just £25,000 and £28,000, never denied the extravagant spending on luxury holidays and designer clothes. However, they claimed that Lawson had sanctioned the spending and indulged them with expensive gifts so that they would remain silent about her “guilty secret” – her alleged chronic drug abuse.

As the trial progressed, the accusations of what went on inside the couple's £25m (€29m) London mansion became more lurid.

It was alleged Lawson used cocaine to stay up all night and write her wholesome cookery books; that she drank liquid Xanax from the bottle as if it were water; and that her children had once given her a Mother's Day card with a joint taped to the front. The accusations did not just come from the Grillos. An email written by Saatchi derided his ex-wife as “Higella” and claimed she had “trashed” her daughter's life by allowing her to take drugs.

In response, Lawson said that despite the outward trappings of wealth and success, she was living in a gilded cage.

She said she didn't have a drug problem, she had a life problem – a “brutal” husband who subjected her to “acts of intimate terrorism”.

She admitted taking cocaine but said she had only taken the drug seven times, the first time with her former husband John Diamond when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

While Lawson told the court she was now drug free and has won the battle against her personal demons by finally freeing herself of her domineering husband, only time will tell if she has had to sacrifice her career to do so.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. The Grillos were first arrested and charged in August 2012 and, at the start, said nothing about Lawson's alleged drug abuse.

However, then, in June, infamous pictures of Saatchi appearing to throttle his wife outside their favourite restaurant were beamed around the world and everything began to fall apart.

Saatchi accepted a police caution for assault but was allegedly furious with his wife for failing to defend him against accusations of domestic violence in the press.

In July, he said he was making the “heartbreaking” decision to divorce his wife because he felt he had been a “disappointment” to her, but behind the diplomatic language she claimed he was hatching a plan.

“He said to me that if I didn't go back to him and clear his name he would destroy me – and also started spreading false allegations of drug use,” Lawson said.

In his account, he had grabbed her neck out of concern, to “make her focus”, and pinched her nose because he was wiping cocaine off it.

However, Lawson said that was “a story he made up afterwards to clear his name”.

Her version of events was more sinister. She said she had made a throwaway remark about looking forward to grandchildren when he attacked, saying: “I'm the only person you should be concerned with, I'm the only person who should be giving you pleasure.”

The question for the jury was which version of events to believe. The Grillos' claim that they were innocent “lambs” caught in the “collateral crossfire” of an imploding marriage, Saatchi's damning allegation that Lawson was “so off (her) head on drugs” that she had allowed the sisters to spend whatever they liked, or Lawson's claim that she dabbled with drugs very rarely to cope with the bullying behaviour of her ex-husband?

Their decision to acquit the sisters suggests that they found their version of events more credible.

Although the sordid details of the trial have been hugely damaging, they will probably not spell the death knell for Lawson's glittering career.

With even David Cameron stating that he was on “Team Nigella” (and thus almost collapsing the trial) public sympathy seems to be on the chef's side – with good reason.

Saatchi, in his assault on his wife and the vindictive email he sent her, has revealed himself to be a bully.

The true extent of Lawson's drug use is now wide open to debate but we do know that what started out as a tale of two servants turned into a family saga, with Nigella and Charles at the centre of the drama.

Online Editors

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