Nigella PAs 'cagey' about spending

Hampshire Chronicle: TV cook Nigella Lawson arriving at Isleworth Crown Court in west London TV cook Nigella Lawson arriving at Isleworth Crown Court in west London

One of the personal assistants accused of defrauding Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi was "cagey" and "secretive" about where she got her designer clothes and spent most of the time at work on Facebook, a court has heard.

Elisabetta Grillo, 41, was taken ill and had to be led from the dock as evidence about her was given by her former colleague Alice Binks.

The defendant and her sister, Francesca Grillo, 35, are accused of abusing their positions by spending £685,000 on credit cards belonging to the celebrity couple to buy designer goods and luxury holidays for themselves.

Elisabetta returned to the courtroom after a brief break, wiping her face with a tissue.

Ms Binks, who also worked as a personal assistant to Ms Lawson during her marriage to the multi- millionaire, said she often noticed the sisters wearing expensive-looking clothes and with designer handbags.

"Francesca would say that she got them from, like, a thrift shop or from eBay at a heavy discount," Ms Binks, who now works for ITV, said.

"Elisabetta always had nice handbags. She would always say that they were from discount stores.

"They were always quite cagey and would sometimes get angry if you asked what they'd done at the weekend and were always quite secretive about their personal lives."

Referring to one occasion with Francesca, Ms Binks said: "After pushing her for a while about what she'd done that weekend, it turned out she'd been to New York for the weekend, which was really weird because I'd never go to New York for just a weekend but she seemed to have a fun life and was kind of away a lot."

Ms Binks, who worked for Ms Lawson from October 2010 to October last year, said she looked up the website where they claimed to have bought some realistic-looking fake designer goods, but did not think it was really where they were getting them from.

She added that Elisabetta - also known as Lisa - "could be quite difficult to work with".

"She was quite bitter and quite angry," she said.

"Most of the time Lisa would be on Facebook."

Asked by Anthony Metzer QC, representing Elisabetta, if she had come to court to blacken his client's name, Ms Binks said: "No, I like Lisa. I just came here to give evidence."

Earlier Isleworth Crown Court in west London heard claims that Ms Lawson has signed an exclusive deal to be interviewed by American chat show host Oprah Winfrey.

Karina Arden, representing Francesca, told jurors that the TV cook, who divorced Mr Saatchi earlier this year, would appear on the high-profile show next month as she cross-examined another personal assistant, Anzelle Wasserman.

"You know, don't you, that Ms Lawson has signed an exclusive agreement with Oprah Winfrey in January?" Ms Arden asked.

"That's not correct," Ms Wasserman replied, but did not elaborate on what details were or were not accurate.

The Italian sisters each deny a single count of fraud.

Ms Binks said she saw a life coach at Ms Lawson and Mr Saatchi's home on two or three occasions and she thought Ms Lawson had also seen him.

Ms Wasserman, who began giving evidence yesterday, was also accused of conniving with her boss ahead of the trial.

The court heard she has continued to work for the food writer as her "principal PA" and member of "Team Cupcake".

"You, I suggest, have come to court partly to save, as you perceive it, Ms Lawson's reputation," Ms Arden said.

She answered: "I'm here to give witness evidence about the trial of the Grillos because I worked for them for so long, and that is why I'm here."

Ms Wasserman was taken through a list of foreign trips that Francesca went on with Ms Lawson and Mr Saatchi's daughters from their previous marriages.

Between February 2008 and August 2011, the defendant accompanied the teenagers as they travelled around the world, staying in luxury hotels in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Amsterdam and Paris, often making several visits each year.

More details of Ms Lawson and Mr Saatchi's spending during their 10-year marriage were read out to the court during evidence from another member of Team Cupcake, Zoe Wales.

Jurors heard that Ms Lawson spent £54,552 at Donna Karan between 2008 and 2012, while more than £7,500 went on a custom-made sofa.

There was a bill for £1,368 at Annabel's Wine Cellar, along with £2,250 spent at Shi Cashmere, which Ms Wales said was for clothes for Ms Lawson.

The details were given as Ms Wales, who has worked as a personal assistant to Ms Lawson for nearly 13 years since her marriage to the late John Diamond, was questioned about the statements for the credit cards she was loaned.

Ms Wales, who said she was given three credit cards and a debit card by the couple, said she was told they were to buy "household items principally".

Asked by prosecutor Jane Carpenter if she ever used them for other things, Ms Wales told the court: "Only if I was given explicit instruction that I was allowed to do so."

During cross-examination by Mr Metzer, Ms Wales was asked if Mr Saatchi was "not somebody you would want to go against?".

Ms Wales said: "I think one would always want to do what one had been asked."

Questioned further, she admitted: "Mr Saatchi could have a temper, yes."

No mention of drug-taking allegations against Ms Lawson was made during today's evidence.

As she went into the witness box herself last week, Ms Lawson spoke of suffering "intimate terrorism" at the hands of her multi-millionaire ex-husband, describing him as a "brilliant, but brutal man".

She revealed details of her past drug use, saying she would rather be "honest and ashamed" than "bullied with lies". She admitted taking cocaine with Mr 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 smoking cannabis in the last year of her marriage to the art gallery owner, said the idea that she is a "drug addict or habitual user of cocaine is absolutely ridiculous".

She accused her ex-husband of "peddling" stories about her alleged drug habit, including that he was checking her nose for cocaine when he was photographed gripping her throat outside Scott's restaurant in Mayfair, central London, in June.

The Grillo sisters, of Kensington Gardens Square, Bayswater, west London, are accused of committing fraud by abusing their positions by using a company credit card for personal gain between January 1 2008 and December 31 last year.

The trial previously heard that suspicions were raised last year by Mr Saatchi, which his finance director, Rahul Gajjar, then investigated before going to police.

The investigating officer in the case, Detective Sergeant Peter Lewis, gave evidence this afternoon, telling the court that the sisters were arrested in August last year.

They both answered "no comment" during interviews with police and were eventually charged last March, he said.

The trial was adjourned until tomorrow.

The defence case is expected to begin once Mr Lewis has finished being cross-examined and Elisabetta Grillo will take to the witness box.

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