Three win pounds 14m each as Camelot collects pounds 7m

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Camelot yesterday confirmed that three potential winners are to share Britain's biggest lottery prize of just over pounds 42m, in the most popular week for participation since the event began.

Only one of the lucky three had come forward to claim their winnings last night, but requested anonymity.

Around 127.8 million tickets were sold, nearly double the average weekly sale of around 65 million, Camelot said yesterday.

The National Lottery organisers were last night in discussion with players who believed that they had each won pounds 14,002,870 as a result of the double rollover in sales from the previous two weeks. Camelot is preparing to make a further announcement today as to whether the winners are individuals or a part of a successful syndicate.

As well as the three major winners, Camelot announced that 53 lottery players had each won pounds 104,747 after picking five of the six winning numbers - 2,3,4,13,42,44 - as well as the bonus ball of 24. The total prize pool was pounds 81,436,302, with an estimated pounds 39m - the usual 28 per cent of the ticket sales - going to good causes. Camelot could also count itself among the winners - it picked up pounds 7m.

The previously biggest prize pool was on 1 April last year, when the total prize money was pounds 44.4m, as opposed to the first National Lottery prize pool of pounds 22m fourteen months ago.

The total spent on lottery tickets was pounds 127.8m, plus an extra pounds 20m on "Instants" scratchcards. Around pounds 60m was spent on Saturday alone.

Demand for tickets because of the double rollover jackpot was so high that ticket networks at Camelot's two data processing sites at Watford and Liverpool crashed for 20 minutes at Saturday lunchtime, shutting down 19,000 on-line terminals nationwide.

But a Camelot spokeswoman said yesterday: "That didn't really cause a problem. They were working within 20 minutes and between 2pm and 3pm we sold 8 million tickets... It was great to see everyone coming together under the common denominator of having fun."

Not everyone in the country was so enthusiastic. The Bishop of Coventry, the Right Reverend Simon Barrington-Ward, yesterday made another call for the abolition of the National Lottery.

"I would like to see it abolished," he said on the BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme, "but I would also like to see the prizes reduced and that is the more realistic of the two options at the moment. I think it was brought in as a device to avoid having to have taxes. It seems to me to be a corrupting influence on our society."

Meanwhile, banks and building societies said the combination of January sales and the record lottery prize fund boosted cash withdrawals to a record high.