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LONDON (Reuters) - Two kitchen assistants who used to work for British celebrity chef Nigella Lawson have alleged that she was a regular user of cocaine and other drugs, according to reports of a court hearing published by several national British media on Tuesday.
The two women are being prosecuted for fraud and the allegation against Lawson forms part of their defense. The media reports said the allegation had been described in court by a prosecution lawyer as untrue and "totally scurrilous".
Contacted by Reuters, Lawson's publicist Mark Hutchinson said: "As proceedings are live we can't comment at the moment." Under British law, it is legally risky to comment publicly about what is said during criminal court proceedings.
Lawson, often nicknamed the "Domestic Goddess" after the title of one of her bestselling recipe books, is a TV chef and cookery author who is popular in Britain and the United States.
Lawson attracts a lot of media attention in Britain and her recent divorce from millionaire art collector Charles Saatchi made front-page news.
Lawson's two former assistants, Italian sisters Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo, are accused of defrauding Saatchi out of more than 300,000 pounds ($484,600) during the period when they worked for Lawson and Saatchi was still living with her.
The Grillo sisters have pleaded not guilty and part of their defense is that Lawson authorized them to make use of Saatchi's credit card in return for their silence about her drug-taking, according to the British media reports.
"In a nutshell we submit that she had a guilty secret from her husband, her then husband," Anthony Metzer, a lawyer for Elisabetta Grillo, told Isleworth Crown Court, according to the Daily Telegraph website.
"She did not want him to know of her use of cocaine and that is highly relevant to the defense case," Metzer said, according to the same article.
The allegation is that Lawson used cocaine, cannabis and prescription pills "daily" for over a decade.
"This is a totally scurrilous account which has been raised by the defense," prosecuting lawyer Jane Carpenter was quoted as saying in the Daily Telegraph article.
Carpenter was quoted as telling the court that despite being arrested more than a year ago and charged in March, the sisters had first made the drugs allegation earlier this month. ($1 = 0.6190 British pounds)
Writing by Estelle Shirbon; Additional reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by Robin Pomeroy