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6 February 2018

Judge calls rich couple's divorce battle 'a waste of time'


A divorce battle between a couple who have spent almost £2m on lawyers’ fees while fighting over assets worth £6.6m at most, has been described as a “scandalous waste of court time” by a judge, reports The Guardian.

Barbara Cooke, 58, and Michael Parker, 55, an estranged couple who run a firm that supplies luxury bathrobes and towels to upmarket hotels and spas, had “completely lost touch with reality”, said Mr Justice Holman.

The dispute has yet to be aired at a trial, but the judge warned the couple, who are both directors of BC Softwear, that they were heading for a “catastrophe” and urged them to negotiate.

The business, which is based in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, and employs 17 people, was set up by Cooke in 2001. Parker subsequently became a director.

Holman aired his concerns while analysing the latest stage of the dispute at a pre-trial hearing in the family division of the high court.

“They have spent a third of their wealth slugging it out,” he said. “These people have completely lost touch with reality. I don’t know where the responsibility lies; it’s probably shared.

“This is heading for catastrophe.”

Holman estimated that about another £200,000 would be spent on lawyers if the divorce went to trial.

“This whole case is a scandalous waste of court time. Sometimes one can see cases where people are just absolutely determined to go on and on and on. I don’t know on which side the fault lies but this seems to be that sort of case.”

The judge made a similar point at a hearing in May, when he said: “If there is nothing left at the end, there is nothing left at the end. It won’t be Maseratis, will it? It will be a beaten-up old Ford if you’re lucky.”

It has previously been alleged that during the couple’s relationship, Parker arranged for a £1m bungalow belonging to Cooke to be burned down in a failed insurance fraud.

A high court hearing in 2012 heard that the couple made a claim to their insurers over the property in Farnham Royal, Berkshire. They were living elsewhere. Mr Justice Teare rejected the claim and found that Parker, who was running a nursing home business, arranged the fire himself, and that his wife had no idea what had happened.

“I have reached the conclusion that there is no credible explanation for the fire on the evidence before the court other than it was set by persons on the direction of Mr Parker,” the judge said .

Suspicions were raised after investigators found a key left in the outside of a conservatory door, suggesting the arsonist had access to the property. No criminal prosecution was brought.