Widower tests law on Army 'sexism'

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A FORMER Navy officer, John Howard, yesterday launched a test case to prove that the Ministry of Defence is sexist towards men.

The retired lieutenant commander, 68, of Melksham, Wiltshire, has fought a 15- year battle over entitlement to a widower's pension after his wife, Gwendolen, who was a major in the Army, died of breast cancer.

Mrs Howard died six years after leaving the Army in 1979. Mr Howard claims the Army is sexist in not allowing men rights to their dead wives' pensions.

In May 1990, the European Court of Justice ruled that there should be equality in occupational pension schemes.

Mr Howard had not brought a claim before because the armed forces were excluded from the 1970 Sex Discrimination Act. But his legal adviser, Paul Archer, said that recent cases brought by pregnant women against the Ministry of Defence opened the gates for his claim.

Mr Archer said: 'The MoD conceded that it was unlawful to exclude the armed forces from sex discrimination. This is a test case. Mr Howard had contacted the MoD as soon as his wife died in 1979 to say he wanted a survivors' pension.

'It's unlawful discrimination and wrong to exclude him - he has done everything in his power to bring a claim. I think the MoD's stance is morally indefensible and we're confident we've got a strong case.'

Mr Howard said: 'My wife spent her Army career doing a man's job as an engineer. If it had been the other way round and I had died there would have been no hassle.

'If I win I should be entitled to a six-figure sum, but it's the principle that's driving me on. She earned that pension and I'm entitled to it.'

Andrew Macnab, representing the MoD, said: 'The steps Mr Howard has taken since 1979 don't amount to legal proceedings.'

The tribunal reserved judgment about whether Mr Howard had made his claim legally before the European ruling.