Saatchi tells court he still ‘adores’ Nigella Lawson
Art dealer says he was ‘very fond’ of sisters accused of spending £685,000 on themselves
Charles Saatchi arrives today at Isleworth Crown Court in west London. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters
Charles Saatchi still “adores” his former wife Nigella Lawson, and does not believe she was “so off her head and addled with drugs” that she allowed their two former assistants to run up huge credit card bills, he told a court today.
The multimillionaire art dealer, who separated from Lawson this year, told a jury at Isleworth crown court in west London he was “utterly heartbroken” by their subsequent divorce.
“I adore Nigella now. I adore Nigella and I’m absolutely broken-hearted to have lost her.” In emotional and at times combative testimony,
Saatchi told a packed court that around the time Lawson moved out, after he was photographed with his hand around her throat at a London restaurant, he had been shown witness statements from Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo alleging that Lawson had been a daily user of cocaine, cannabis and prescription medication throughout their marriage.
Saatchi took the stand on the third day of the trial of the sisters, who are accused of running up huge credit card bills buying designer clothes, staying in luxury hotels and booking first-class flights for their personal use. They deny fraud.
He was repeatedly asked to raise his voice for the jury. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t realise I had such a quiet voice,” he said.
Saatchi was “completely astounded” to learn of the drug allegations, he said.
“I don’t like drugs at all and I didn’t like reading what the Grillos said was the culture in my home.”
He admitted, however, that he had written an email to his former wife on October 10th, in which he addressed her as “Higella” and taunted her about the drug allegations.
“Nigella, I was sent this by a newspaper and I could only laugh at your sorry depravity,” the email began.
It continued: “Of course now the Grillos will get off on the basis that you were so off your head on drugs that you allowed the sisters to spend what they liked. And yes, I believe every bit the Grillos said.”
It concluded: “Bravo - you have become a celebrity jurist on a global television gameshow and you have got the pass you desired, free to enjoy all the drugs you want forever. Classy.”
Under cross-examination from Anthony Metzer QC, representing Elisabetta Grillo, he said: “I was just being nasty. This is not a very pleasant email, but I was very, very upset.”
He said the email came to light when Lawson’s legal team passed it to the prosecuting lawyers and said he was “entirely bereft that this private note to Nigella has come back to haunt me”.
He called her decision to pass it to her lawyers “a terrible, terrible mistake”. In response to later questioning by Mr Metzer, however, he said: “Are you asking me whether I think Nigella really was off her head? Do I think she was off her head and addled with drugs? Not for a second.”
He said he had “never, ever seen any evidence of Nigella taking any drug whatsoever”.
The court heard Lawson had instructed her lawyers to serve a withdrawal statement on October 17th, seeking to back out of giving evidence to the sisters’ criminal trial and a separate civil case that Lawson and Saatchi had initiated against them.
Saatchi said he had never read a letter sent in October by his lawyers to Lawson’s legal team threatening to sue her, including for £600,000 allegedly spent by the sisters, if she refused to give evidence.
“I haven’t read that letter. My conversation with my lawyer was simple: ‘Can you send a letter which is extremely forceful and says: you really are going to have to attend or otherwise the consequences will be very unpleasant.’ It worked!”
Lawson is now expected to give evidence in the trial. He continued: “Do I think Nigella is going to say: ‘Yes, I gave them authority to go out and spend what they like’? Not a chance.”
He told the court that he had also never read a document prepared for him by his financial director, Rahul Gajjar, which detailed spending of £100,000 a month - including an alleged £76,000 by the Grillos - on six credit cards used by Lawson and five of the couple’s personal assistants. “I do not spend my days fussing about even very large sums of money,” he told Karina Arden, representing Francesca.
“It’s not that I’m rich, it’s just that I’d rather not look at a piece of paper with money written on it. It’s not what I do.”
Speaking about the incident at Scott’s restaurant, after which he accepted a police caution for assault,
Saatchi said: “I was not gripping, strangling or throttling her. I was holding her head by the neck to make her focus, can we be clear?” “Was what you were talking about ... ?” began Mr Metzer. “No. Her drug use? No,” replied Saatchi.
Saatchi agreed the sisters, who had initially been employed as nannies for Lawson before the death of her first husband, John Diamond, had been “like family”.
“I’m very fond of ... or was very fond of Francesca and Lisa (Elisabetta). They were part of our family ... The children adored them. I was very fond of them. Nigella was very fond of them.”
Francesca Grillo lived rent-free at the family home in Eaton Square, he said.
“The truth is there was no real need for us to keep them both on but we liked them very much and found work for them.”
He said after the pair’s alleged high spending had been brought to his attention in July 2012, he met Francesca and offered to allow the sisters to continue working for the couple and to live rent free in a property owned by Lawson in Battersea, but to have their pay cut as “what I described as penance”.
Francesca had described the offer as “humiliating”, he said.
“I think she said as she left: ‘I would rather go to jail than go to Battersea.’ And then she said: ‘See you around.’ “ The case continues.
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