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Nigella’s revenge after blow

- Celebrity cook rails against smear campaign

London, Dec. 21: Nigella Lawson railed yesterday against a deliberate campaign to blacken her name, as sources claimed that Charles Saatchi, her former husband, had been trying to push allegations about a drug habit into the public eye for months.

The celebrity cook was dealt a stinging blow when two sisters who had worked as her housekeepers for more than a decade were cleared of fraud charges in a case that hinged on the credibility of her evidence.

The jury had been asked to consider whether Nigella, 53, was “off her head” and so allowed the women to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo, the former aides, were acquitted of defrauding Saatchi, 70, an art dealer, of 685,000 during an alleged four-year “glossy magazine” spending spree.

In an extraordinary statement after the trial, during which she was accused of taking cocaine habitually amid a series of highly personal allegations, Nigella claimed that a smear campaign had been conducted against her since the summer and said she was “disappointed but not surprised” at the verdict.

“When false claims about habitual drug use were introduced, I did everything possible to ensure the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) was aware of the sustained background campaign deliberately designed to destroy my reputation,” she said.

“When I gave evidence I spoke of my regret at having to talk about the circumstances of the end of my marriage, and also voiced concern about a campaign to circulate false allegations carried out over the course of this summer, then circulated as witness statements from the Grillos by a publicist, and eventually added to the defence of this prosecution in November.”

After almost nine hours of deliberation, the jury at Isleworth Crown Court reached a majority verdict yesterday. Francesca Grillo, 35, responded with: “There is a god.”

Elisabetta, 41, had collapsed with panic attacks and an arrhythmic heartbeat at least four times since Thursday afternoon, when she was taken to hospital.

Richard Cannon, the sisters’ solicitor, said: “This has been a long, hard fight, played out in the world’s media.”

The Metropolitan Police said they were not investigating the allegations that Nigella had taken Class A drugs, but would consider doing so if new claims came to light.

Sources close to Nigella said that since her break-up with Saatchi in July, her team had been approached by several newspapers citing claims from Saatchi that she had a drug habit. This was followed by the publication of two deeply damaging witness statements signed by the Grillos in late September.