Defendants found not Guilty
Celebrity TV Chef Nigella Lawson condemned the country's court system in a statement last night following the acquittal of her former employees on fraud charges. A jury at the Isleworth Crown Court in London found the 2 aides (assistants, home helps, nannies), Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo, not guilty of fraudulently spending nearly £685,000 on company credit cards issued to them by Ms Lawson and her former husband Mr Saatchi.
During the three-week trial the popular TV chef was forced to admit using cocaine and marijuana during cross-examination, in a court process that last night's statement described as “deeply disturbing, malicious and a ridiculous sideshow.”
The Case for the Prosecution – Was that as two close and trusted employees and confidantes the Grillo sisters had used their positions to go on lavish shopping sprees treating themselves to expensive gifts and exotic holidays using the Saatchi company credit cards without any authorisation. They had kept their spending secret from their employers and it was only discovered many months later by Saatchi's accountants.
The Defendants - Insisted that everything was all above board and all spending was with the knowledge and tacit approval of their employers. In a startling revelation the sisters told the court that Mr Saatchi would order them and other staff to withdraw up to £200 to drive around the city buying up copies of his latest book, in order to push it up the best sellers lists. They would do this up to four times a week, they alleged.
The trial took an interesting turn when the defendants team suggested that Ms Lawson was a drug user and perhaps may not have accurate recollections of authorising the spending. Ms Lawson took the stand and was forced to defend herself stating categorically that she was not a drug addict. Matters were not helped when the Grillos' defence team produced a devastating email from Charles Saatchi to his former wife talking about her drug use. He referred to her as Higella – ha!
The Politics – It was revealed after the trial that at one point during the process the defence team had asked for the trial to be stopped. This followed an unguarded comment by Prime Minister David Cameron saying he was a fan of Nigella and supported her all the way. Mr Cameron was responding to a a reporter who had asked whether he was in 'Team Nigella' The defence team felt that the unfortunate comments could jeopardise the fairness of the trial. The judge instructed the jury to ignore such 'regrettable comments' and cautioned public figures from issuing statements on an ongoing trial.
The Lessons – Washing dirty linen in public is never a good idea. This is even more critical for famous people or public figures. It puts a huge spotlight on peoples' private lives. The prosecution in this case was simply trying to get compensation for the monies that the Grillo sisters had used fraudulently. The Grillo defence team, in doing their job seized upon the drug allegations in an attempt to cast doubt on Ms Lawson as a reliable witness. The somewhat dodgy method of playing the best seller book market was another a stunt that would not earn the employers much sympathy in the court of public opinion.
My Random Verdict - This case seems not to have been so much a search for truth, as a test of the of the case against the defendants. Despite what was said, it seems that it was Nigella Lawson who was in that dock.