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Saturday 19 April 2014

Saatchi terror drove me to drugs, Nigella tells trial

Nigella Lawson arrives at Isleworth Crown Court earlier today, December 5, 2013 in London, England for the trial of two sisters who are accused of fraud
Nigella Lawson arrives at Isleworth Crown Court earlier today, December 5, 2013 in London, England for the trial of two sisters who are accused of fraud

Nigella Lawson has told a jury that "acts of intimate terrorism" by her "brutal" ex-husband Charles Saatchi drove her to cocaine and cannabis use.

Ms Lawson said she had succumbed to snorting cocaine in 2010 when she felt "ashamed, isolated and in fear" and also admitted to smoking cannabis "with or in front of" her children.

Miss Lawson (53) also said she had been "punished" by Mr Saatchi for going to a female friend's birthday party, adding: "I don't mean that I was beaten, but there was emotional abuse and it was very wounding."

On a day of intense drama at Isleworth Crown Court in west London yesterday, the TV cook said Mr Saatchi was trying to "destroy" her by making public her drug use after his "menaces" failed to force her to return to him.

She first used cocaine when her first husband, John Diamond, was fighting cancer before his death from the disease in 2001. Her admission came during the fraud trial of two former aides, but she repeatedly told a jury that she felt she was the one on trial and the victim of a "witch hunt" as she spent an entire day in the witness box.

She also gave her first account of the row in a restaurant that led to the end of the couple's marriage, saying Mr Saatchi grabbed her by the throat in a fit of jealousy, telling her: "I'm the only person who should be giving you pleasure."

Ms Lawson, accompanied to court by her brother Dominic, stood with her arms folded and clashed repeatedly with Anthony Metzer QC, one of the defence barristers, accusing him of "creeping up" on her with his questions.

Judge Robin Johnson told her she was entitled not to answer questions if the answers would risk incriminating herself.

Then Mr Metzer asked her: "Are you or have you ever been a user of cocaine?"

She replied: "I have never been a drug addict, I have never been a habitual user. There were two times in my life when I used cocaine.

"One time was when my husband's cancer was terminal and he was introduced to it, thinking it would help, and I did on maybe six occasions join in with him.

Cocaine

"There was another time I took cocaine, in July of 2010 I was having a very, very difficult time. I felt subjected to acts of intimate terrorism by Mr Saatchi." "A friend of mine offered me some cocaine and I took it. It completely spooked me . . . I didn't have a drug problem, I had a life problem, and I needed to deal with it and went to a therapist."

She ridiculed the suggestion that she had used cocaine "daily" for 10 years, joking: "People who do that are a lot thinner than I am."

Ms Lawson said Mr Saatchi did not approve of drugs, but alleged that during his time running the Saatchi & Saatchi advertising agency: "They brought in a big sack of cocaine every Friday," which others took.

Asked if she had ever taken cannabis, she struggled to keep her composure as she said: "I have. I would say with some shame, but I have to be honest, I have smoked the odd joint, starting I would say in the last year of my marriage to Mr Saatchi. I found it made an intolerable situation tolerable. "Since freeing myself from a brilliant but brutal man I am now totally cannabis, cocaine and illegal drug free."

Asked if she had ever smoked the drug "with or in front of" the couple's children from previous relationships, she said: "I sometimes did, I'm afraid to say." Ms Lawson also confirmed that she had taken the antidepressant Xanax, but only in doses prescribed by her doctor and not in "excessive" amounts.

She was giving evidence in the trial of two of her former personal assistants. She is a prosecution witness in the trial of Italian sisters Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo.

The pair are accused of abusing their positions by using credit cards loaned to them by Ms Lawson and her former husband Mr Saatchi to spend more than £685,000 (€826,000) on themselves.

At the close of the day's proceedings, Ms Lawson was told she would have to return today for further cross-examination, scuppering her hopes that she could "finish and go home for tea".

Since she last spoke to Mr Saatchi on August 25, Ms Lawson had changed her telephone number and blocked emails from the Saatchi gallery, she said.

Putting on a pair of reading glasses to look at credit card statements, Ms Lawson confirmed that Elisabetta Grillo was given a Hermes watch and a diamond necklace from Tiffany's as gifts, while another aide put her £12,500 (€15,000) wedding reception at the Saatchi Gallery on Mr Saatchi's credit card at the couple's suggestion.

But Ms Lawson said she did not authorise Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo's "giddy spending" of £685,000 they are accused of spending fraudulently on Mr Saatchi's credit card.

They were never authorised to withdraw cash because "Charles kept a huge stash of it above the fridge" in a zipped freezer bag, she said.

The jury heard that other assistants – known as "team cupcake" – also spent huge amounts of money on the credit cards.

One spent £1,368 at Annabel's nightclub in February 2012, and Ms Lawson said: "It's not the nightclub, its the wine cellar . . . Mr Saatchi likes to drink expensive wine."

She added that the female aide could not have spent the money at the nightclub because: "They don't allow women members in case they are prostitutes."

A medical bill for £2,300 was for "laser hair removal" she said, adding: "It wasn't for her."

A bill for £15,500 at the Shoreditch House members' club was for her daughter Cosima's 18th birthday party, another for £10,564 was for tickets to a Kanye West concert for Mr Saatchi's daughter Phoebe and her friends, which she described as "a huge amount". Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo deny fraud. The trial continues with Ms Lawson giving more evidence. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Gordon Rayner

Irish Independent

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