Saatchi assistant could buy ‘anything I wanted’

One of the former personal assistants to Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson accused of defrauding the celebrity couple said she was given a bank card to withdraw her own salary and buy “anything I wanted”.

Saatchi assistant could buy ‘anything I wanted’

Francesca Grillo, 35, said she was handed a bank card upon being employed by art dealer Saatchi more than a decade ago, with instructions to withdraw her £300 (€355) a week wages and to buy what she, Saatchi, Lawson, or her children needed.

Grillo — who, along with older sister Elisabetta, denies fraud — told Isleworth Crown Court in west London that the card was used to furnish her accommodation in the annex of Saatchi’s house, as well as pay for essentials such as groceries.

Giving evidence in her defence, Grillo said she played a key role in the lives of Saatchi, Lawson and the children, including housekeeping, shopping, taking the children to school, cooking meals, and even cleaning up after builders to prevent Saatchi from getting angry over the mess they left.

Asked by defence counsel Karina Arden about the way her wages were paid, Grillo said: “He [Saatchi] gave me a card with my name on it. It was a NatWest card [with wages of £300 a week] to be withdrawn weekly. I would live in the annex of the house. I was told to buy whatever I wanted with that card. I was never given strict rules. Charles just said: ‘There is your card.’

“I was to buy food for the house, laundry, anything the children wanted, anything Nigella or Charles wanted.

“When asked, I could get myself anything. Anything to do with furnishing my flat, travel...”

The defendants, of Italian descent, are accused of spending £685,000 on credit cards belonging to the celebrity couple to buy designer goods and luxury holidays.

Once Grillo bought herself a Chanel bag with her work credit card after Lawson said that was “fine”, as it was a gift to say thank you.

There were other times Lawson would tell Grillo “treat yourself” if she saw an item she liked.

Grillo admitted liking designer labels, and there were times when she bought herself expensive items — but said all were authorised by Lawson as a “thank you” for staying behind and working over Christmas. The items were bought the following February, the court heard.

Questioned by Arden about Lawson’s earlier evidence that she would not have authorised such large payments, Grillo replied: “I’m afraid Nigella said many things that are not quite true.”

Asked by Arden if Lawson was happy, Grillo replied: “I think, in general, no. In her relationship, no.

“She’s a very social woman. She likes people. She is a people person and Charles is quite opposite.”

The court heard the company credit card had been extended to a £100,000 limit — up from £50,000 — but Grillo said she did not ask for this to happen, just that the payments were met while she was on holiday with the children and was conscious of creeping close to the previous credit limit.

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