PR man Richard Hillgrove of Hillgrove PR has been accused of conducting a smear campaign against Nigella Lawson both on behalf of her ex-husband Charles Saatchi and her two former aides who were cleared this week on fraud allegations.
The allegations were made in an investigation by the Sunday People, the sister paper of the Daily Mirror - the title that published the infamous pictures of Saatchi with his hands around Lawson’s throat in a restaurant in June, for which Saatchi later accepted a police caution.
The paper claims that a smear campaign against Lawson began almost immediately while her marriage to Saatchi was breaking down.
A month after the restaurant incident, Hillgrove began sending out press releases to media claiming that it had all been an elaborate stunt set up by Lawson and demanding an apology from Trinity Mirror for running the story.
Further claims from Hillgrove included suggestions that Lawson had begun an affair with Saatchi before her former husband, John Diamond, died of cancer, and allegations that Lawson was a cocaine user.
According to the Sunday People, Hillgrove was hired by Francesca and Elizabetta Grillo in September. The pair were cleared this week of accusations that they’d defrauded Saatchi of £685,000.
Part of the sisters’ defence was that Lawson was a regular and secretive drug user, and that their understanding over finances was related to that.
The pair wrote witness statements ahead of the trial and Hillgrove published them on his website.
But the Sunday People claims that despite Saatchi and the Grillo sisters battling each other in court, they both joined forces with Hillgrove in a bid to smear Lawson’s reputation.
When Saatchi had his legal team write to Lawson threatening to sue her if she did not appear in court, Hillgrove tipped off newspapers on the detail of the letter, the Sunday People says.
The paper also rebutted claims made against the paper that it had ‘manipulated’ the story after the pictures of Saatchi apparently strangling his distressed wife in June emerged.
“In his first blog in July he incorrectly stated that the throttling scene had been set up by Nigella,” the paper stated.
“Ten days later he described the story as “total and utter fantasy and lies”. Among the litany of untruths peddled by Hillgrove were that our reporter Sian James was in Scott’s [restaurant] that night. Wrong.
“Sian had called up a photographer to take the pictures. Wrong. Nigella was ‘feigning distress’ for the camera. Wrong. Saatchi was just being ‘tactile’ when he gripped Nigella’s throat. Wrong.”
According to Hillgrove’s Wikipedia page, he worked as a consultant to Saatchi & Saatchi in the early 1990s and assisted the advertising giant when it won the Levi Strauss account.