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Did Nigella Lawson give go-ahead to spend when 'off her head', jury must decide

Thursday, 19 December 2013 - 9:36am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Judge rules that evidence of drug abuse is relevant to fraud case.

A judge has told a jury to consider whether Nigella Lawson might have given two aides permission to use a credit card when she was "off her head" on drugs. Judge Robin Johnson said the issue of the TV cook's drug-taking was relevant in deciding whether Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo are guilty of fraud. He spoke after one barrister defending the Italian sisters suggested they had been "caught in collateral crossfire" and likened the defendants to "children in an acrimonious divorce".

Referring to an email to Miss Lawson from Mr Saatchi, in which he mocked her as "Higella" and suggested she had authorised spending on his credit card when she was "off her head", the judge said: "Were it the case she was 'off her head' and allowed expenditure as a result, it would clearly be of relevance."

Mr Saatchi had claimed he made the "nasty" statement when he was angry. Summing up, the judge told the jury at Isleworth Crown Court in west London: "You should consider if there is any weight to the argument that the defence made, that Nigella Lawson gave permission for this expenditure because she was worried about being shopped or exposed about this drug-taking, either to Mr Saatchi or to the authorities." Anthony Metzer QC, defending Elisabetta, suggested Mr Saatchi, who was divorced by Miss Lawson in July, had used the trial "as a way to attack Miss Lawson by proxy".

He added: "As his relationship with Miss Lawson started to unravel and he lost control of her, he looked for a place to put his hurt and anger. "The extravagant way Ms Lawson kept her family in his money was now a legitimate place for him to exert his feelings." He asked the jury if it was "credible" Miss Lawson had taken cocaine only seven times in her life. He claimed she "carefully honed" her evidence and gave a "rehearsed speech". "It came from a woman who found herself between a rock and a hard place - excuse the pun," he said. "In reality, what choice did she have?

She faced compelling evidence from many sources of sustained drug use over the past 10 years." Karina Arden, defending Francesca, suggested Miss Lawson lied about allowing the Grillo sisters to spend lavishly because she was terrified her "dark secret" of drug use would come out.

She claimed Miss Lawson was worried that if her drug abuse became public it would ruin her new career in the US. She urged jurors not to be starstruck by Miss Lawson and to treat her drug use the same as they would that of someone "from an estate". Arguing that her drug use undermined her credibility, she said: "People are charged and tried everyday for that - for possessing cocaine. She has gone into the witness box and admitted to that." But Jane Carpenter, prosecuting, said it was "utter nonsense" that the sisters' spending would have been sanctioned, and reminded the jury that Miss Lawson was not the one on trial. Both defendants deny fraud. The case continues.

Secret of a good lasagne? We shared it with Nigella Nigella Lawson used a family recipe for lasagne shared with her by two Italian aides in her Nigellissima cookbook, the jury heard. Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo gave Miss Lawsdon the recipe from their native Calabria and were mentioned in the book. Francesca Grillo said: "She refers to two friends from Calabria, or two sisters." She claimed that during trips home to Italy, she would use the company card to buy food and props for Miss Lawson to use. In another book, Miss Lawson described the sisters as her "kitchen confidantes". Miss Grillo, 35, denied she was a fantasist or a "shopaholic" when she was accused of lying about her expenditure. "I haven't lied to this court," she said. To claims that she took advantage of her position and felt she was "on to a good thing", she replied: "They were my family. I was very, very lucky. They loved me, I loved them back."

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