Nigella's assistants not guilty of fraud

Last updated 07:20 21/12/2013
Nigella Lawson
QUIET ARRIVAL: Nigella Lawson.

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Two former assistants to Nigella Lawson and her ex-husband have been acquitted of fraud.

The announcement on Friday (local time) capped off a trial where allegations of unauthorised employee spending on lavish goods were often overshadowed by titillating glimpses into the celebrity chef's troubled home life.

The jury at London's Isleworth Crown Court rejected prosecution claims that sisters Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo had used credit cards loaned to them by Lawson and Charles Saatchi for household expenses to run up unauthorized charges of 685,000 pounds (more than NZ$1.3 million) on luxury clothes, designer handbags and high-end hotel rooms.

Defence lawyers for the Grillos - sisters from Calabria in southern Italy - had claimed that Lawson approved their high spending in exchange for their silence about her drug use.

That argument shifted the spotlight from the sisters squarely onto Lawson and Saatchi, who divorced in July after he was photographed grabbing her neck outside a London restaurant.

Lawson accused her ex-husband - a multi-millionaire art collector - of spreading the rumors about her drug use after the damning images surfaced.

"I have been put on trial here ... and in the world's press," Lawson said on the stand.

She admitted to taking cocaine but strongly denied she was a regular or frequent drug user, blaming her use of the drug in 2010 on "intimate terrorism" carried out by Saatchi and feelings of isolation and fear in her unhappy marriage.

Scotland Yard said Friday it will not be investigating allegations the cook took cocaine.

Neither Lawson nor Saatchi were immediately available for comment following the verdict.

Neither of the Grillos - 41-year-old Elisabetta or 35-year-old Francesca - was in court when the verdict was read. Elisabetta's lawyer, Anthony Metzer, however, said his client was "relieved" and "crying her eyes out".

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- AP

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