British celebrity chef Nigella Lawson's staff cleared of fraud

Fri Dec 20, 2013 11:11am EST
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By Alexander Winning

LONDON (Reuters) - Two former assistants of celebrity chef Nigella Lawson were acquitted of defrauding her and her art dealer ex-husband on Friday after a trial that enthralled Britain with lurid tales of drug use, lavish spending and marital bullying.

Sisters Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo were cleared of defrauding Lawson and Charles Saatchi of 685,000 pounds ($1.12 million), having argued in court there had been an understanding they could spend at will on credit cards if they kept quiet about the chef's drug taking.

Lawson, 53, said she was "disappointed but unsurprised" by the acquittal and said she was "maliciously vilified" in the trial that had provided a stage for a sustained campaign to destroy her reputation.

"Over the three week trial, the jury was faced with a ridiculous sideshow of false allegations about drug use which made focus on the actual criminal trial impossible," Lawson said in a statement issued by her publicist.

The trial produced sensational accounts of the high society marriage which fell apart earlier this year after Saatchi was photographed clasping his wife's throat at a restaurant in London's Mayfair.

"My clients are naturally relieved at the verdict of the jury," the Grillos' lawyer Richard Cannon said outside court. "This has been a long, hard fight, played out in the gaze of the world's media."

Such was the interest in the case in Britain that even Prime Minister David Cameron passed comment, saying he was a massive fan of Lawson whom he described as "very funny and warm". It was an intervention which led to a rebuke from the trial judge.

A well-known TV star and author in Britain and the United States, Lawson told London's Isleworth Crown Court she smoked cannabis occasionally towards the end of her 10-year marriage to Saatchi and had taken cocaine several times, but not regularly.   Continued...

Sisters Francesca (R) and Elisabetta Grillo arrive at Isleworth Crown Court in west London December 19, 2013. REUTERS/Toby Melville