Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi marriage 'secrecy'

Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi were granted a divorce in July

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There was a "culture of secrecy" in Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson's marriage, a court has heard.

It emerged during legal argument in the case involving their personal assistants who are accused of fraud.

Sisters Francesca, 35, and Elisabetta Grillo, 41, deny spending more than £685,000 on the couple's credit cards.

Isleworth Crown Court has already heard how Mr Saatchi accused Ms Lawson of allowing their staff to spend to cover her use of drugs.

Anthony Metzer QC, representing the Italian sisters, told the court: "The defendants' case is that Nigella Lawson lied to her ex-husband about her drug use and about the expenditure that was incurred by the defendants, both expressly and implicitly, because she was fearful of Mr Saatchi's reaction if he knew about the extent of the expenditure and drug use.

'Habitual criminal'

"There was a culture of secrecy within Nigella Lawson's marriage."

He added: "If Mr Saatchi is telling the truth, then Ms Lawson is a habitual criminal."

After the jury was sworn in, prosecutor Jane Carpenter opened the case, stating that the trial "relates to the high life lived by Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo.

"The sort of life you may often see portrayed in glossy magazines.

Elisabetta (R) and Francesca Grillo Defence lawyers argued the Grillo sisters would not get a fair trial, but the judge disagreed

"But we say that they did so not by their own endeavours but in a greedy and fraudulent free-for-all by abusing the trust of their employers in a four-year spending spree."

She said the sisters were "employed to ensure the smooth running of Ms Lawson and Mr Saatchi's household", with duties that included looking after their children and sometimes going on holiday alone with the children.

Start Quote

In total they spent in excess of £685,000. Francesca Grillo spent more than £580,000 and Elisabetta Grillo around £105,000”

End Quote Jane Carpenter Prosecutor

They lived rent-free, with Elisabetta Grillo paid £25,000 a year, and Francesca Grillo £28,000.

Ms Lawson, who employed the sisters before her marriage to Mr Saatchi, "acknowledged that they were extremely close to her family", Ms Carpenter said.

But she added: "For some people, however, the temptation of having a card that they can use with impunity to buy high-value goods is too great.

"They travelled the world staying in top hotels and spent exorbitant sums of money on clothes and accessories."

Among the luxury goods they bought were items from Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Miu Miu and Prada, the court heard.

"In total they spent in excess of £685,000. Francesca Grillo spent more than £580,000 and Elisabetta Grillo around £105,000," Ms Carpenter said.

Earlier, the judge ruled the case against the Grillo sisters could go ahead, despite the defence lawyer arguing his clients would not get a fair trial.

Judge Robin Johnson said that "with the right rulings and the ability to monitor the process of the court during the process of the trial, a fair trial can be achieved."

The sisters, both of Bayswater, west London, deny fraudulently using company credit cards to buy luxuries, including designer clothes and first-class air travel, between 2008 and 2012.

Mr Metzer said his clients would not be able to receive a fair trial "as there has been a manipulation of the court process by the two main prosecution witnesses in this case".

He said: "It's a convenient forum for Mr Saatchi and Ms Lawson to rehearse disputed issues between them... in the criminal courts where, of course, the possibility of libel is not possible."

Held by throat

Prosecution lawyer Ms Carpenter argued the case should not be thrown out as "nothing raised shows manipulation of court process" and "the timeline proves it".

"This case therefore started long before any allegations of drug taking", she added.

Start Quote

It was only during the break-up that I became aware that she was taking drugs when we were married”

End Quote Charles Saatchi Statement

The court heard the alleged offences came to light in June 2012 after Mr Saatchi's finance director Rahul Gajjar noticed the high level of spending.

The finance director suggested if they repaid the money they could put the matter behind them and continue working for the family on reduced salaries, to which the defendants at first agreed, the court heard.

The court heard the sisters met Mr Saatchi at his Saatchi Gallery in central London to discuss the proposals but negotiations later broke down.

Mr Saatchi met with Francesca Grillo on another occasion but "her attitude was it was humiliating to live in the house on less pay and would rather go to jail", Ms Carpenter said.

During the hearing, Mr Metzer read out part of a statement from Mr Saatchi, which said: "It was only during the break-up that I became aware that she was taking drugs when we were married.

"I can't remember precisely when but I think it was in June 2013, at the time of the well-publicised incident at Scott's restaurant in Mayfair."

Mr Saatchi and Ms Lawson broke up in the summer after pictures were published showing the millionaire art dealer holding his wife by the throat at the restaurant in Mayfair.

He accepted a police caution for assault.

Earlier, Ms Lawson tweeted: "Holiday Hotcake: the perfect recipe to show thanks for all your support & to those who hashtag #teamNigella."

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