Friday 23 February 2018

Saatchi 'threat to destroy Nigella'

Nigella Lawson is a witness at the trial of her former personal assistants
Nigella Lawson is a witness at the trial of her former personal assistants

Nigella Lawson accused her ex-husband, Charles Saatchi, of threatening to "destroy" her as she gave evidence in the trial of their former personal assistants on fraud charges.

The celebrity cook told the court she had been "put on trial" over false allegations of drug use and had endured a "summer of bullying and abuse".

She faced dozens of photographers and television crews as she arrived at Isleworth Crown Court in west London.

Her former PAs, Francesca Grillo and her sister Elisabetta, sometimes referred to as Lisa, are accused of committing fraud by abusing their positions by using a company credit card for personal gain. Prosecutors claim the Italian sisters lived the ''high life'', spending the money on designer clothes and handbags. They are accused of using credit cards loaned to them by the TV presenter and Mr Saatchi to spend more than £685,000 on themselves, the jury has heard.

Nigella told the court that the "awful incident at Scotts (restaurant)", when Mr Saatchi was photographed holding her by the throat, was followed by false allegations of drug use against her on a "PR blog". She said: "I have been put on trial here where I am called to answer, and glad to answer the allegations, and the world's press, and it comes after a long summer of bullying and abuse. I find it's another chapter in that."

Nigella admitted she had been reluctant to give evidence in the trial, and spoke of her ex-husband's reaction. "He had said to me if I didn't get back to him and clear his name he would destroy me," she said. She said the allegations on the blog were "dedicated to salvaging Mr Saatchi's reputation and destroying mine".

Anthony Metzer QC, defending Lisa Grillo, asked Nigella if Mr Saatchi had a temper. "Yes, he did have a temper and I don't think that anyone can be in any doubt he had a temper," she said.

Questioned about whether she thought Mr Saatchi's background conflicted with hers, she replied: "I don't understand why my marriage is pertinent to you."

Nigella, 53, who stood for the entirety of her evidence, said that while her late husband, John Diamond, left some debts, she did not use Mr Saatchi's money to pay them off. "I'm an independent woman and I used none of his money to pay off my husband's debt," she said.

Mr Metzer asked whether Nigella "confided" in Lisa about Mr Saatchi's temper. "Yes," she replied. The barrister asked whether she discussed with Lisa that she was contemplating leaving her then-husband. "It wasn't so much a discussion," she said. "I may have said I didn't know how much longer I could take this." Mr Metzer said: "You confided in Lisa that Mr Saatchi had been shouting and swearing at you?" Nigella replied: "I think she may have even heard some of it, yes."

Mr Metzer asked the food writer whether Lisa confided in her that Mr Saatchi had shouted and sworn at her too. "He did sometimes lose his temper. I'm not sure he did so at her," she replied. "I have to say it was not beyond impossible to imagine. But I don't remember any such confidence."

Elisabetta, 41, and co-defendant Francesca, 35, both of Kensington Gardens Square, Bayswater, west London, deny the charge against them.

Nigella told the court she was "flabbergasted at the extent" of the alleged fraud.

Speaking about Lisa, she said: "It's very difficult when you find out that someone you have loved and trusted could behave that way. In my heart of hearts I do not believe Lisa to be a bad person. I believe her not to have a very strong moral compass." She added: "Lisa had been a stalwart and had helped me through a very difficult time when my first husband died. She came to me at a very difficult time in my life. She was a rock. I would have done anything for her."

Nigella told the court that while Lisa had become "like a member of the family", she became "bitter" later on.

The court heart that Lisa wanted to move out of the family home, and Mr Metzer put to Nigella: "The reason she wanted to live in private accommodation is because she said she didn't want to live with Mr Saatchi ever again?" She replied: "Yes."

Nigella said she was "incredibly close" to all of her assistants. "I tend to trust everyone implicitly and often that's not rewarded," she said, adding: "I'm still trusting actually. I refuse to become a bitter untrusting person."

Press Association

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