TV CHEF Nigella Lawson has been described in court as a "habitual criminal" who had a "culture of secrecy in her marriage".
The claims were made before the trial of two Italian sisters accused of using a company credit card to buy themselves designer handbags and flights while working as personal assistants to Ms Lawson and her ex-husband Charles Saatchi.
Lawyers for the defendants, Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo, argued that the case should not go ahead as Mr Saatchi and Ms Lawson were at "loggerheads" and the alleged drug use damaged the TV cook's "credibility as an honest witness".
Lawyer Anthony Metzer told Isleworth Crown Court in London: "There was a culture of secrecy within Nigella Lawson's marriage."
Quoting from Mr Saatchi's statement, the barrister said: "It was only during the break-up that I became aware that she was taking drugs when we were married.
"I can't remember precisely when but I think it was in June 2013, at the time of the well-publicised incident at Scott's restaurant in Mayfair.
"It was subsequently confirmed to me by other people in and around the household."
Mr Metzer added: "If Mr Saatchi is telling the truth, then Miss Lawson is a habitual criminal."
When the trial was later allowed to proceed, prosecutor Jane Carpenter told jurors: "This case is a case about fraud, not about other issues of matrimonial discord or drug taking."
She said Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo were "employed to ensure the smooth running of Miss Lawson and Mr Saatchi's household", with duties that included looking after their children, even sometimes going on holiday alone with the youngsters.
They lived rent-free, with Elisabetta (41) paid £25,000 a year and Francesca (35) £28,000.
Ms Lawson, who employed the sisters before her marriage to Saatchi, "acknowledged that they were extremely close to her family", Ms Carpenter added.
Both were given credit cards to buy items for the household and family members with the balance paid off each month by direct debit without being closely scrutinised and an understanding that they would not use it for themselves.
Ms Carpenter said that this was often the arrangement for staff. She added: "For some people, however, the temptation of having a card that they can use with impunity to buy high-value goods is too great.
By the time their fraud came to light they had incurred expenditure which was in excess of £685,000.
Yesterday, the court heard that Mr Saatchi referred to his former wife as "Higella" in an email he sent to her on October 10. He and Miss Lawson broke up after pictures were published in a newspaper in June showing Mr Saatchi holding his wife by the throat.
The incident was dismissed by Mr Saatchi as nothing more than "a playful tiff" but he later accepted a police caution for assault.
Terry Prone – Nigella's being unfairly judged: See Page 15