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Tuesday, 11 June, 2002, 17:34 GMT 18:34 UK

Widower wins equal rights case

BBC News

The European Court of Human Rights building in Strasbourg
The judges in Strasbourg heard Mr Willis' case

A father-of-two has won his legal battle for equal rights after his benefits claim was turned down because he was a man.

European Court judges supported a claim by widower Kevin Willis that British legislation denying him benefits only available to widows was a breach of his human rights.

The 46-year-old from Bristol, who gave up work to raise his children when his wife died of cancer, was awarded 25,000 in damages and 12,500 in costs.

His wife Marlene died in 1996 aged 39, leaving Mr Willis to look after their children Natasha, now 13, and 11-year old Ross.

Kevin Willis
Kevin Willis had been refused widow's benefits

But his claim for social security benefits was turned down because he was a widower - not a widow.

UK law was changed in 2001 to give bereavement benefits to both men and women.

But the treatment of Mr Willis's claim for benefits before that date did breach the Human Rights Convention, to which Britain is a signatory, Tuesday's judgement said.

Now the judges say Mr Willis should have received the same entitlements as a woman would have done in the same situation.

Mr Willis said: "It's marvellous news. We wanted to get a judgement in this because the government has been settling out of court in other cases.

"We always knew what they had done was unfair, now it's official."

The judgement was also welcomed by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), which had supported Mr Willis' claim.

Stewart Wright, Legal Officer at CPAG, said: "The government has dragged its feet over paying out money to widowers like Kevin and we would expect them now to give an immediate commitment to pay all benefits due to men."

The court acknowledged that changes in domestic law bring Britain into line with the Human Rights Convention.

But they awarded damages and costs to Mr Willis to compensate for the government's refusal to give him benefits which, he was told, were "specific to women".

Liberty, the civil rights organisation, felt the court's decision was only part of the story.

Spokesman Roger Bingham said: "This is good for all those who had cases in the system but that does not cover everyone.

"Those who did not have claims in before the very strict deadlines will be left with nothing, which is still unfair."