Thursday 18 January 2018

She may be rich, famous -- and a self-confessed drug user -- but Nigella wasn't the one on trial

Nigella Lawson flanked by police as she arrived at Isleworth Crown Court in London earlier this month. Peter Macdiarmid/Getty
Nigella Lawson flanked by police as she arrived at Isleworth Crown Court in London earlier this month. Peter Macdiarmid/Getty
Sisters Elisabetta (left) and Francesca Grillo, former personal assistants to Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson arriving at Isleworth Crown Court in west London.

Philip Johnson London

The trial and acquittal of two sisters working for Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi provided a rare insight into the lives of the rich and famous.

The great wodges of cash kept on top of the refrigerator; the casual expenditure of hundreds of thousands of pounds on credit cards with barely the batting of an eyelid; and the dysfunctionality of a household that belied the Domestic Goddess image underpinning "brand Nigella".

The past few days have seen a concerted attempt to repair the damage caused to that brand by what were alleged to have been underhand tactics orchestrated by the cook's former husband.

TRAUMATIC

For the participants, this has doubtless been a traumatic experience. For the rest of us, it has been a voyeuristic one, a six-month soap opera that began in June with the publication of photos showing Mr Saatchi with his hand around his ex-wife's throat at a London restaurant, which was followed by a remarkably speedy divorce before transferring to the courts and last weekend's newspapers.

But beyond the titillation, it has also raised some wider questions about the criminal justice system in Britain, particularly the ambivalence shown towards drug-taking when it involves a wealthy celebrity.

We have been here before, of course. When model Kate Moss was pictured allegedly snorting cocaine in 2005, it was predicted that her career was over and, for a while, it looked as if it might be when a long list of household names dropped her from their books.

REHAB

Yet within a year, following a cursory chat with the police and a visit to a rehab clinic, she was busier than ever. No one, it seemed, really cared if she had taken drugs. It was the sort of behaviour people expected in her Bohemian world of night clubs, playboys and mega-yachts.

However, what people expect and what the law requires are not the same. Cocaine and cannabis are illegal; if a mother on a council estate was caught using them, she would most likely be arrested and, at the very least, could expect a visit from the social services about the well-being of the children.

In Nigella's case, despite the efforts of her two former assistants, Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo, to portray her as a habitual drug-taker, no such evidence was ever produced to substantiate this. Even though they were often in the same house, the Grillo sisters conceded they had never seen her taking illegal substances, and neither had her former husband, as he told the court.

Nigella did, however, admit that she had used cocaine on occasions with her late husband, John Diamond, but only when he was dying, and at one other time in 2010. She had also smoked pot.

So what should the police do about this admitted breach of the law? They would probably dearly like it all to go away, yet why should there be one law for the beautiful TV cook and another for the inner-city drug user?

This very point has been made on several occasions by senior police officers. In 2005, Ian Blair, the former commissioner of London's Metropolitan Police, foreshadowed a crackdown on middle-class cocaine users who take the drug in pubs, clubs and at dinner parties. He said those who considered that cocaine was acceptable and thereby created a demand for it should realise it was not a "harm-free pleasure".

Mr Blair suggested "a few examples" should be made of those caught taking cocaine. Charles Clarke, then British home secretary, added that the law must apply to everyone "whatever their social class". Yet it was all a lot of hot air and nothing actually happened.

Does anyone really doubt that rock stars and TV celebs are treated differently when it comes to drug-taking?

In Nigella's case, there was another, important, reason why the police did not want to conduct an inquiry: she had effectively incriminated herself while giving evidence for the prosecution.

Pursuing people in such circumstances can make it far harder to get witnesses to come forward. But as the police are also mindful of the dangers of being seen to operate double standards, there is to be a review.

But just as Nigella should not expect lenient treatment as a celebrity, neither should she be more harshly dealt with because her star status was turned against her.

She was not the defendant in the trial, and the allegations about her drug use were never tested properly. Since she had no legal representation, she had to stand there and take it.

DISCREDIT

The way the adversarial system works meant that the defence painted the worst possible picture of her lifestyle to discredit her as a witness against the sisters, who were accused of fraud. This is done to ensure that any finding of guilt is "beyond reasonable doubt".

But while that is just for the accused, it is not fair on a witness whose reputation is trashed because the same safeguards do not apply.

We should all be equal; but double standards operate in the judicial system -- and not always to the advantage of the TV superstar. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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