A man whose wife died when doctors failed to diagnose her illness correctly has won a claim for negligence after a seven-year battle with an NHS trust.

Robert Eastaff faced denials, obfuscation and delaying tactics in his efforts to discover why his wife, Anna, died, aged 60, in Barnet Hospital, north London in what his lawyers described as an "extreme but not unusual" case.

The trust only admitted liability, shortly before Christmas, after Mr Eastaff took legal action. Mr Eastaff said yesterday: "I knew something was wrong, especially when they failed to explain the cause of Anna's death. I have been appalled by the trust's behaviour. No one should have to endure the anguish piled on top [of grief] by incompetent and seemingly uninterested administrators."

Mrs Eastaff was admitted to Barnet Hospital with severe abdominal pain late on Friday 30 March 2000. She died the following Tuesday of an undiagnosed and untreated perforated bowel. A CT scan taken shortly after her admission showed clear signs of a perforation but was reported as normal by the consultant radiologist. Had the scan been read correctly, surgery to close the perforation, which carries an 85 per cent chance of success, would have been performed, according to evidence obtained by his solicitors, Thompson's.

After his wife's death, Mr Eastaff , 72, a retired driving examiner, complained to the Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals NHS Trust that no one had responded to his wife's deteriorating condition while she was in hospital. The trust replied that everything that could have been done to save her life had been done.

Mr Eastaff requested an independent review panel to investigate his wife's death. It did not report till October 2003, but reached a different conclusion. The scan had been misinterpreted, it said, but this would have made no difference as Mrs Eastaff would probably have died anyway. Mr Eastaff complained to the Health Service Ombudsman who upheld his complaint in September 2005.

As a result of this success he decided to pursue a legal claim after evidence confirmed that had the scan been properly read Mrs Eastaff would probably have lived. A formal claim was lodged in May 2006 but the trust again failed to respond. Proceedings started in October but the trust left it to the last day to admit liability. A hearing to set compensation will be held next month.