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Charles Saatchi believes Nigella Lawson is habitual drug lawbreaker, court hears

BY IAN JOHNSTON

Charles Saatchi believes his former wife Nigella Lawson is a "habitual criminal", a lawyer for one of two sisters accused of defrauding the couple of more than £685,000 has told a court.

Anthony Metzer QC, defending Elisabetta Grillo, claimed the defendants could not receive a fair trial because the celebrity chef and Mr Saatchi, the two main prosecution witnesses, were at such "loggerheads" and were trying to manipulate the legal process.

He suggested that a criminal court was a "convenient forum" to continue their high-profile dispute "where, of course, the possibility of libel is not an issue".

Mr Metzer also spoke of a "culture of secrecy" within their marriage, which ended after Mr Saatchi was pictured with his hand around Ms Lawson's throat during an argument outside Scott's restaurant in Mayfair, central London, in June this year.

In a statement by Mr Saatchi read out at Isleworth Crown Court yesterday, the millionaire art dealer said he first became aware that Ms Lawson was taking illegal drugs at about the same time as their very public falling out.

Elisabetta Grillo (41) and Francesca Grillo (35), both Italians, are alleged to have used a company credit card to buy flights, stay in top hotels and treat themselves to designer fashion labels while working as personal assistants to Ms Lawson and Mr Saatchi. Before the start of the trial, Mr Metzer tried unsuccessfully to argue that it should not go ahead. He said Ms Lawson's "credibility as an honest witness" had been damaged by the claims of drug use.

"The defendants' case is that Nigella Lawson lied to her ex-husband about her drug use and about the expenditure that was incurred by the defendants, both expressly and implicitly, because she was fearful of Mr Saatchi's reaction if he knew about the extent of the expenditure and drug use," he said.

He added: "Mr Saatchi is saying that Miss Lawson is a criminal because she has been partaking of class A drugs at her home, and class B drugs."

But Jane Carpenter, for the prosecution, argued against dropping the case. She told jurors: "This trial, the prosecution say, relates to the high life lived by Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo."

The court heard that the alleged offences came to light in June last year after Saatchi's finance director Rahul Gajjar noticed the high level of spending. The credit card bills usually came to between £10,000 to £20,000 a month but had risen to more than £50,000.

Both women admitted they had been using the cards for personal expenditure.

Mr Gajjar suggested that if they repaid the money they could put the matter behind them and continue working for the family on reduced salaries, to which the defendants at first agreed.

The court heard that the sisters met Saatchi at the Saatchi Gallery in central London on July 20 to discuss the proposals but negotiations later broke down.

The Grillos, both of Kensington Gardens Square, Bayswater, west London, deny the charge against them.

It's alleged between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2012, they committed fraud by abusing their positions as PAs by using a company credit card for personal gain.

The trial continues.

FACTFILE

Nigella Lawson reached out to her fans yesterday by posting a recipe for holiday hotcake on Twitter, to thank people who have been using the hashtag #TeamNigella to show their support for her.

The message was retweeted hundreds of times in the hours after she posted it.

Messages of support have been pouring in for the celebrity cook, who has more than 470,000 followers on Twitter.

The hashtag "teamNigella" has been adopted by her fans, amid allegations heard in court from her ex-husband Charles Saatchi that she was a habitual cocaine user.

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