Nigella Lawson marriage anguish made sister feel like ‘child in acrimonious divorce’

Posted at 1:41 PM, Dec 18, 2013

LONDON (CNN) — Defense lawyers for two sisters accused of embezzling money from celebrity chef Nigella Lawson and her ex-husband Charles Saatchi argued Wednesday that they were caught in the middle of a personal battle.

Prosecution claims that Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo embezzled money have not been proved, their respective defense lawyers said in their closing arguments in a west London court.

Both defense lawyers questioned Nigella Lawson’s credibility as a witness and said their clients’ claims that she repeatedly used drugs were relevant to that issue.

The case has gripped UK media, thanks to revelations of drug use by Lawson and intimate insights into her troubled marriage to Saatchi, a millionaire art collector.

Both sisters deny embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the couple, saying their personal spending on Saatchi’s company credit cards was authorized by Lawson.

Lawson and Saatchi divorced this year after a very public argument at a London restaurant.

Elisabetta Grillo’s defense lawyer, Anthony Metzer, told the jury that Elisabetta was the “soft underbelly” by which Saatchi was attacking Lawson, adding that his client had been very close to the chef and her family.

“My client has been caught in a collateral crossfire like a child in an acrimonious divorce,” he told the court.

The jury must be sure that Lawson had not authorized her spending “explicitly or implicitly” over the four years in question if they were to convict Elisabetta, the lawyer said.

Karina Arden, representing Francesca Grillo, said she had made no attempt to hide her spending, so it was impossible for Lawson to say she was ignorant of it.

She also stressed that Lawson was not on trial. “This is not a day for you to say ‘ooh, I like Miss Lawson, I like her cooking programs,’ ” she told the jury. “This is a trial of my client.”

Arden added that the prosecution had failed even to pin down the amount Francesca Grillo is alleged to have embezzled.

‘Bolder and greedier’

However, Jane Carpenter, giving the prosecution’s closing argument in the case, said that the sisters had abused their position “time and time again” and that they “grew bolder and greedier” as time went by.

“Just because Saatchi is a wealthy man, obviously it doesn’t mean he should be defrauded by the staff,” Carpenter said. “That seems to be what the defense are putting forward.”

Carpenter said both sisters admitted they had used the company cards, given to them for household expenses, for personal expenditure.

When they were first asked about that spending by Saatchi’s accountant, they at no point argued then that it had been authorized, she said. They had sent a letter to Lawson and Saatchi apologizing for the personal expenditure and had offered to pay it back, she said.

The sisters knew Lawson had used cocaine after the cancer diagnosis of her late first husband and used the revelation to cause a sensation at the trial, Carpenter said.

She told the jury the only possible verdict in the case was guilty.

‘A case with no winners’

Allegations of repeated drug use by Lawson have played a central part in the evidence presented to the court.

The Grillo sisters, while acknowledging that they had never seen Lawson taking drugs, both said they had seen indications of frequent cocaine and cannabis use.

Metzer said the allegations about Lawson’s drug use were relevant because the issue had an impact on the chef’s credibility. The only real evidence about Elisabetta’s spending was from Lawson, he said.

“This is a case with no winners,” Metzer said. “Not Mr. Saatchi, not Ms. Lawson and certainly not my client.”

Arden suggested the court could not trust Lawson’s evidence because it was not in her interest for the truth about her drug use — which was hidden from her then-husband — to emerge.

She said that if Lawson had admitted authorizing the Grillo sisters’ expenditure, Saatchi “would have been on her back.”

Lawson had to think of a way “to stop the dark secret coming out,” Arden said. “There was a massive attempt to limit the damage.”

She added, “My client is somewhat piggy in the middle.”

‘A life problem’

In her own testimony, Lawson confirmed she had taken cocaine half a dozen times, during two periods of her life, and used cannabis in the past. But she denied being a habitual user, saying, “I did not have a drug problem; I had a life problem.”

Saatchi had said in an e-mail that Lawson had used drugs regularly, but in his testimony before the court last month, he backed off that claim.

In the e-mail, which the defense shared with the court at a pretrial hearing, Saatchi wrote that the two assistants would probably “get off” because Lawson was using cocaine and marijuana on a daily basis and “allowed the sisters to spend whatever they liked.”

Recounting Saatchi’s testimony, Carpenter said he had never intended for that e-mail to be made public. He was being particularly nasty at a time he was upset after their separation and divorce, she said.

Like the Grillo sisters, Saatchi told the court he had never seen Lawson taking drugs, Carpenter said.