Grapevine

It has begun. The historic £1bn lawsuit against the Bank of England brought by the liquidators of BCCI kicked off yesterday, with a thundering opening speech from the liquidators’ QC Gordon Pollock, which made sure no one in the packed press gallery went away disappointed.

As you’d expect from Essex Court Chambers’ Pollock, he laid the headlines on thick, calling the Bank of England “spineless, weak and self-interested” for turning a “blind eye” as BCCI headed towards its collapse in 1991.

At least from an entertainment perspective his performance will probably justify the £3m brief fee – as first revealed by The Lawyer in last Monday’s edition – that BCCI’s liquidators Deloitte & Touche have already paid him, and the £2m or more he will earn for the duration of the case.

But with the case of the year – and possibly the decade – having caught everyone’s attention, and with Pollock being exclusively devoted to it, there is bound to be speculation. Not all of it pleasant.

The current theory doing the rounds is that BCCI is set to be 60-year-old Pollock’s swan song. He is at the top of his tree now, but then so was Brick Court’s Christopher Clarke QC before he took up the offer to spend all of his time working on the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday. That inquiry is still dragging on after five years, and many young solicitors have no idea who this highly respected and talented barrister is anymore. Would Pollock have committed at least a year of his time to any case if he was worried about fading from view?

In support of the theory – and it is just a theory – that Pollock is looking forward to spending the rest of his days at his farm in Cambridgeshire, rivals, as well as solicitors who instruct him, are bringing up recent outbursts he has made in court as a sign that he does not give a fig anymore.

Yesterday, Pollock elicited a queasy laugh from the gallery when he commented on Mr Justice Tomlinson probably not having read the case documents in depth. The implication? That Gordon obviously had.

“Your Lordship has read all the documents, but… it was for the first time. I understand that your Lordship may have found it a bit difficult,” he said.

And then there was that “sex-crazed” outburst. As revealed by The Lawyer (12 January), at a BCCI pre-trial hearing before Christmas Pollock called two female Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer solicitors who have left the case to go on maternity leave “sex crazed”.

But anyone who has ever instructed Pollock will know that a habit to say off-the-wall things in court has been a longstanding feature of his career.

Pollock’s senior clerk David Grief is adamant that BCCI will not be the silk’s last case, even if it goes all the way to the House of Lords and lasts as long as the Saville Inquiry.

The answer is: who knows? BCCI could last several years, but could we really imagine one of the titans of the bar, who is as addicted to the theatre of the courtroom as the courtroom is addicted to him, giving it all up for full-time agriculture? It would certainly be a shame if he did.