Relief for Scrabble man who queued for a pee

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Standing outside the second-floor lavatories of the Central London County Court, a former Scrabble champion said he was "extremely relieved" that his distress at losing a tournament after spending a penny had been recognised. Behind him three Scrabble players burst into tears. It was a fitting end to a surreal case.

After four days and costs of more than pounds 20,000, Mike Goldman, a solicitor, was awarded pounds 90 damages - somewhat short of the pounds 5,000 he had sought - by Judge Anthony Hallgarten, who said he considered the hearing "lamentable".

The judge had to decide whether three officials of the Association of Premier Scrabble Players (APSP) had not allowed Mr Goldman, 62, sufficient time for a "natural" break at a Folkestone tournament in 1990, which Mr Goldman claimed made him lose the game after his time clock was started before his return.

Factors taken into consideration included the distance to the lavatories, the presence of a cowboys' convention in the same hotel, and the strength of differently aged bladders.

"I have to say I am deeply sorry that this case... ever came to court," the judge said.

He ruled that there should have been a reasonable break and it was "quite untenable to require competitors to go from 8.30am to 12.15pm without the opportunity of relieving themselves".

The three defendants Clive Spate, Allan Simmons and Graeme Thomas, who ran the APSP as a non-profitmaking organisation, will have to pay a percentage of Mr Goldman's costs plus their own which will total somewhere between pounds 10,000 and pounds 20,000.

Mr Simmons, president of the APSP which changed the rules governing breaks between games in 1991 as a result of this incident, said the association was "surprised and disappointed" by the result. "It has always been the APSP's view that this action is totally out of proportion to the incident."

Mr Goldman, who will have to pay his remaining costs of about pounds 8,000, said it had been worth it: "You can't value everything in money. I'm not trying to be clever or philosophical, but I was only concerned with the principle, spelt le at the end."

He added that he expected to be banned for life from the association.