Thursday 18 July 2019

Judge urges wealthy estranged couple to reach agreement as legal bills reach €1.12m

Stock photo
Stock photo

Brian Farmer

A RICH British businessman and his wealthy Austrian estranged wife have not halted a UK High Court fight over money following the breakdown of their three-year marriage, despite a judge saying their case should be easy to settle.

Mr Justice Holman has urged engineering firm boss and Conservative Party donor Sir Andrew Cook and interior designer Baroness Angelika Hirsch-Stronstorff to reach agreement after being told that they had run up £1 million (€1.12m) between them in lawyers' bills while arguing over less than £2m (€2.25m).

He said he thought that the case should be the easiest "in the world" to settle.

But Sir Andrew and Baroness Hirsch-Stronstorff resumed their fight when they returned to court on Thursday.

The judge, who is overseeing a trial in the Family Division of the High Court in London - which began on Tuesday and is due to run for two weeks - says the pair have spent "very, very disproportionate" amounts on legal costs.

He has said they should try to reach an out-of-court settlement which was reasonably fair to each of them and put their fight "to bed".

Evidence showed that Sir Andrew - chairman of William Cook, a firm based in Sheffield which produces components for the rail, energy and defence industries - was worth about £25m (€28m) and Baroness Hirsch-Stronstorff about £4m (€4.5m), the judge said.

He had been told that no-one was arguing that their combined wealth should be shared.

Lawyers representing Baroness Hirsch-Stronstorff, on Tuesday, told the judge that she wanted to walk away with £2.8m (€3.15m).

Sir Andrew - who was treasurer of the Conservative In campaign, which sought to keep the UK in the European Union at the 2016 referendum - had offered £1m (€1.12m).

Lawyers representing Baroness Hirsch-Stronstorff said that offer would leave her with about £500,000 (€560,000), because of tax implications, and had been rejected.

On Wednesday, the judge was told that Sir Andrew had made a second offer of £2m (€2.25m).

But Baroness Hirsch-Stronstorff still did not think she was being fairly treated and had also rejected that second offer.

Mr Justice Holman said it seemed a "great shame" that the £800,000 (€900,000) gap could not be "bridged", and urged the pair, and their legal teams, to keep negotiating.

"I remain very, very strongly of the view that this case should be the easiest case in the world to settle," said Mr Justice Holman on Wednesday.

"Cases which are difficult to settle are where there is not enough money to go around, and there is enough money to go around in this case."

But the trial resumed when Sir Andrew and Baroness Hirsch-Stronstorff returned to court on Thursday and the judge is continuing to hear evidence from witnesses.

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