A High Court judge has urged a rich Sheffield businessman and his wealthy estranged Austrian wife to agree a truce after being told how they had run up £1 million in lawyers’ bills while fighting over less than £2 million.
Mr Justice Holman said engineering firm boss, and Conservative Party donor, Sir Andrew Cook and interior designer Baroness Angelika Hirsch-Stronstorff had spent “very, very disproportionate” amounts on legal costs following the breakdown of a three-year marriage.
He said they should try to reach an out-of-court settlement which was reasonably fair and put their fight over money “to bed”.
The judge was speaking on Tuesday at the start of a trial in the Family Division of the High Court, in London, which is due to run for two weeks.
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 £25 million and Baroness Hirsch-Stronstorff about £4 million, the judge said.
He had been told that no-one was arguing that their combined wealth should be shared.
Lawyers representing Baroness Hirsch-Stronstorff said she wanted to walk away with £2.8 million but 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 made an offer which would leave her with about £500,000.
They said each had run up lawyers’ bills of about £500,000.
“You have spent £1 million in costs arguing about £1 million or so,” said Mr Justice Holman.
“It seems utterly, utterly ridiculous.”
He said “very disproportionate” amounts had been spent and added: “We are only arguing about somewhere between £1 million and £2 million between people who are worth somewhere between £25 million and £30 million. It is pretty depressing, frankly.”
The judge went on: “I really, really think they ought to find some means of reaching an outcome, which is not what either of them want, but which is reasonably fair to each of them and put this to bed.”