R v Grillo
|R v Grillo and Grillo|
|Court||Isleworth Crown Court|
|Full case name||Her Majesty The Queen vs Elisabetta Grillo and Francesca Grillo|
|Prior action(s)||Carnaco Partnership v Grillo (2012; Freezing injunction application)|
|Judge(s) sitting||Robin Johnson|
The defendants, former personal assistants to Nigella Lawson and her ex-husband Charles Saatchi, were accused of fraudulently using the credit cards of Saatchi's private company between January 2008 and December 2012.
In 2013, the sisters pleaded not guilty to the charges made against them and were found not guilty.
Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson married in 2003. Lawson was previously married to the journalist John Diamond until his death in 2001; Lawson and Diamond had two children together. In June 2013, photographs emerged of Saatchi grasping Lawson around the throat at a dinner table outside a Mayfair restaurant. Saatchi accepted a conditional caution for assault from the police over the incident. He announced his intention to divorce Lawson, stating that the couple had "become estranged and drifted apart". Lawson made no public comment; however, Lawson filed for divorce citing ongoing unreasonable behaviour. On 31 July 2013, Saatchi and Lawson were granted a decree nisi effectively ending their 10-year marriage with court documents suggesting that the two had already arrived at a private financial settlement.
Elisabetta Grillo was hired by Lawson as her personal assistant and nanny in 1999, during her marriage to Diamond. Four years later, after Lawson married Saatchi, the couple hired her sister, Francesca, to serve as an additional personal assistant. Elisabetta and Francesca were on salaries of £25,000 and £28,000 per annum, respectively. The sisters were also housed for free by their employers. As part of their duties, the sisters were expected to make certain purchases on behalf of their employers; they were therefore given Coutts credit cards in their own names on Saatchi's Conarco Partnership company account. The Grillos were accused of misusing the credit cards to make personal purchases worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Lawson and Saatchi were originally willing to continue employing the Grillos if the women could pay back the money, but then later decided to involve the police when the matter was not resolved. The two women were arrested in August 2012. The Grillo Sisters hired criminal defence firm Janes Solicitors to represent them.
In an unusual move, on 26 November 2013 in a pre-trial hearing the presiding judge, Robin Johnson, lifted an order that had prevented publication of claims made in pre-trial proceedings on 15 November. In a "bad character" defence relating to Lawson, enabling her to be cross-examined during the trial, the Grillo sisters have alleged that Lawson had permitted their personal use of a private company credit card resulting in spending claimed, on the following day, to be £685,000 between them, in return for non-disclosure to Saatchi of Lawson's purported use, for at least ten years, of cocaine and cannabis (Class A and B drugs respectively) and her unauthorised use of prescription drugs. The defence counsel for Elisabetta, Anthony Metzer, QC, said that while the arrangement was not verbalised, it amounted to a "tacit understanding".
An email sent by Saatchi to Lawson which was read out in court indicated that he believed the Grillos' assertions and subsequently he said that he was "completely astonished by the alleged scale of the drug use set out in the statements". Saatchi has stated that he was unaware of this reported situation until a late stage of the couple's marriage. The prosecuting counsel Jane Carpenter described the Grillos' claims about Lawson's drug use as "totally scurrilous" and Lawson's spokesman declined to comment, "as the proceedings are still live". Carpenter said that although the sisters had been arrested and interviewed on 2 August 2012, and charged in March, they had only made allegations against Lawson in October 2013.
On 27 November, the defence counsel for Elisabetta, Anthony Metzer, QC, attempted to have the case thrown out as an abuse of process on the grounds that the two prosecution witnesses, Lawson and Saatchi, could not be "witnesses of truth". This application was rejected by the judge.
On 27 November 2013, the trial began.
Saatchi testified that it had been Lawson's idea to give the Grillos credit cards. He stated that he had not authorized the Grillos' purchases himself, but was unable to say whether Lawson had approved them. He testified that he had never seen Lawson take illegal drugs, but added that the drug accusations against Lawson were "pretty compelling". Lawson had been "very cross" when he told her that he had confronted the Grillos over their credit card use, Saatchi stated. Although Saatchi wanted to deal with the matter privately, Lawson suggested involving the police. Saatchi also testified that he was "bereft" [sic] that his email about the drug allegations had been made public. Lawson admitted to taking cocaine and cannabis but denied she was or is addicted, she stated, ""I found it made an intolerable situation tolerable. It’s a false friend. I found the answer was in changing the situation and trying to create a tolerable situation for me and my family. Since freeing myself from a brilliant but brutal man, I’m now totally cannabis-, cocaine- and drug-free."
Saatchi's finance director testified that, after the couple's former assistants alleged unauthorised spending had been uncovered, he suggested that they pay off the debt gradually over a long period. However, the Grillos were unhappy with this suggestion, as they felt they would be tied to the Saatchis for the rest of their lives; they accused Lawson and Saatchi of treating them "worse than Filipino slaves".
Sharrine Scholtz, another former employee of Charles Saatchi testified personal and business spending with credit cards that the Grillos used were not distinguished. Scholtz allegedly processed credit statements and allocated spending on items like beauty treatments, clothes, hotels, shopping to business accounts. When Scholtz wanted to leave Saatchi's employment she alleges she was threatened over taxi fares she had been allowed to claim and was falsely accused of stealing from petty cash. She testified if she did not sign an agreement her employer wanted she, "thought perhaps [she] would be standing [accused in court] instead of Lisa and Francesca," 
On 12 December, the judge made critical remarks concerning comments made by David Cameron in The Spectator magazine in which Cameron said he was a "huge fan" of Lawson and a member of "Team Nigella", her support group on social media. The judge asked the jury to ignore what the Prime Minister had said.
On 20 December 2013 the jury found both sisters not guilty.
Subsequent to the criminal trial of the Grillos, it was reported that both Saatchi and Lawson could be liable for employer tax contributions on the money used for the personal benefit of the two sisters. The money and other benefits could be considered taxable benefits in kind, that could potentially be subject to a 13.8% employer National Insurance contribution.  Also subsequently there were reports that the Grillos father, Michele Grillo had been arrested over an alleged conspiracy to sell "large" quantities of cocaine and cannabis.
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- 'Career suicide' to testify against Charles Saatchi, ex-aide tells court
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- Grillo sisters' father arrested in Italy