LONDON (AP) — Two former assistants to Nigella Lawson and her ex-husband were acquitted of fraud Friday, ending a trial in which allegations of unauthorized employee spending on luxury goods were overshadowed by titillating glimpses into the celebrity cook's tumultuous home life.
The jury at London's Isleworth Crown Court rejected prosecution claims that sisters Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo had used credit cards loaned to them by Lawson and Charles Saatchi for household expenses to run up unauthorized charges of 685,000 pounds (more than $1 million) on luxury clothes, designer handbags and high-end hotel rooms.
Defense lawyers for the Grillos — sisters from Calabria in southern Italy — had claimed that Lawson approved their high spending partly in exchange for their silence about her drug use.
Lawson said Friday that she was "disappointed but unsurprised" by the verdict.
"Over the three week trial, the jury was faced with a ridiculous sideshow of false allegations about drug use which made focus on the actual criminal trial impossible," she said in a statement.
In court, the Grillos claimed to have seen signs of drug use around the house — including bags of white powder and rolled-up banknotes — although neither said they had seen Lawson taking drugs.
The allegations shifted the spotlight from the high-spending sisters squarely onto Lawson and Saatchi, who divorced in July after he was photographed grabbing her neck outside a London restaurant.
Lawson accused her ex-husband, a multimillionaire art collector, of spreading false rumors about her frequently using drugs after the damning images surfaced.
"I have been put on trial here ... and in the world's press," Lawson said when she appeared as a prosecution witness at the trial.
On Friday, Lawson said her "experience as a witness was deeply disturbing."
"I did my civic duty, only to be maliciously vilified without the right to respond," she said.