Saatchi PAs fraud jury retires

Somerset County Gazette: Sisters Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo, former personal assistants to Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson Sisters Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo, former personal assistants to Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson

The jury in the trial of two sisters accused of defrauding Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson has been sent out to consider its verdicts.

Francesca Grillo, 35, and her sister Elisabetta, 41, are alleged to have spent £685,000 on credit cards belonging to the TV cook and her art dealer ex-husband, who were divorced in July.

The Grillos, of Kensington Gardens Square, Bayswater, west London, each deny a single count of committing fraud by using a company credit card for personal gain between January 1, 2008, and December 31 last year.

It has been alleged that the Italian women committed fraud, abusing their positions as personal assistants by using a company credit card for personal gain.

Elisabetta, sometimes referred to in court as Lisa, and Francesca allegedly lived the "high life".

The court heard they used the credit cards loaned to them by the TV cook and her ex-husband Mr Saatchi to buy designer goods from Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Vivienne Westwood.

Francesca stands accused of spending the largest amount on herself with a sum of £580,000.

She is alleged to have bought designer clothes and shoes as well as going on luxury holidays.

Judge Robin Johnson told the jury as he sent them out: "The battle lines in this case are clearly drawn.

"The Crown's case is that these two women, over a long period of time, acted dishonestly and knew perfectly well they were acting dishonestly.

"The defence case is that they had authorisation, either specifically, in terms of items bought and hotels, or implied - a taxi, taking out cash."

He told the seven men and five women they had to reach a unanimous verdict.

Mr Saatchi has been accused of using the trial against the Grillo sisters to "attack" his former wife, from whom he was divorced earlier this year.

Anthony Metzer QC, defence counsel for Elisabetta, said she had been caught up in the "cross-fire" between the former couple.

The jury in court eight heard details of an email sent by Mr Saatchi in which he accused Ms Lawson of being off her head on drugs and branding her "Higella".

He said in that message: "Of course, now the Grillos will get off on the basis that you... were so off your heads on drugs that you allowed the sisters to spend whatever they liked and yes I believe every word the Grillos have said, who after all only stole money."

Ms Lawson revealed during the trial that she took cocaine with her late husband John Diamond when he found out he had terminal cancer, and on another occasion in July 2010 during her troubled marriage to Mr Saatchi.

But the 53-year-old, who also admitted to smoking cannabis, told the court the idea she is a "drug addict or habitual user of cocaine is absolutely ridiculous".

She described Mr Saatchi as a "brilliant, but brutal man" who subjected her to "intimate terrorism".

The food writer claimed her 10-year marriage to Mr Saatchi became so unhappy it drove her to drugs, which made an "intolerable situation tolerable".

In her evidence, Francesca said she "frequently" found rolled-up bank notes with white powder on them in Ms Lawson's handbags.

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