Judge's ruling puts Camelot back in running for lottery

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The Independent Online

The High Court has condemned the commissioners who control the National Lottery for an "abuse of power" after illegally refusing to give the lottery operators Camelot a chance to refine their bid to run the game.

The High Court has condemned the commissioners who control the National Lottery for an "abuse of power" after illegally refusing to give the lottery operators Camelot a chance to refine their bid to run the game.

Mr Justice Richards yesterday quashed a decision by the National Lottery Commission to start exclusive talks with Sir Richard Branson on his proposals for the next lottery licence. He ordered the commission to give Camelot another month to improve its proposals.

In a heavily critical ruling, the judge branded its decision on 23 August to refuse Camelot extra time as "remarkable" and "conspicuously unfair" because it failed to give both companies equal treatment. Those actions, he added, "fell out of the range of decisions open to a reasonable and properly informed decision maker".

Dianne Thompson, the chief executive designate of Camelot, reacted with glee to his judgment. "This is what we've been waiting for. It's absolutely fantastic," she said. She also came close to calling for the commission's five members to resign: "Camelot was found to have been treated so unfairly that the commissioners were judged to have behaved not only illegally but irrationally."

Yesterday's ruling comes after the commission ruled out giving Camelot the new licence because of strong concerns over the trustworthiness of its software supplier GTech, although it decided to give Sir Richard extra time to improve his bid.

Camelot and the commission will hold a preliminary meeting today to discuss their programme of talks, which Mr Justice Richards said should begin on Monday and last for a month - exactly the same time granted to Sir Richard to find a £50m legally guaranteed fund to protect prize-winners' money.

After meeting yesterday afternoon, the commissioners dismissed suggestions they should resign. In a statement, they admitted they were "disappointed" by the ruling but highlighted the judge's observations that the commission was "trying to be fair and that its motives were right".

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