THE TAPES THAT NAIL CAMELOT: GIVE IT TO THEM; Branson calls for a change in rules to let couple win.
SIR Richard Branson last night called for a lottery rule-change to allow the Totts to pick up their pounds 3million.
The tycoon, who was rejected in his bid to replace Camelot as draw operator, said this was "perfectly possible".
Culture Secretary Chris Smith said he would look sympathetically at any alteration made by the watchdog National Lottery Commission.
Sir Richard, who is offering Martyn and Kay a week's holiday on his Caribbean isle of Necker, said: "Everybody has to feel unbelievably sorry for them.
"It seems clear they are completely genuine claimants who must feel they have lost out on so much.
"One also has to have a little bit of sympathy for Camelot.
"Clearly they consulted the commission, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was the commission which is playing Scrooge and refusing to let Camelot pay out."
Sir Richard said the watchdog had the power to amend the 30-day limit for lost tickets - which ruled out the Totts' claim, even though Camelot said it was valid.
The change could even be backdated to benefit the Totts.
Sir Richard said: "If Camelot and the commission are satisfied a claim is legitimate, why on earth shouldn't they be able to hand over the money at their own discretion? The Totts' case is unusual, certainly, but you can envisage it happening again.
"People don't check numbers for all sorts of reasons."
Sir Richard said a change would NOT encourage bogus claims because Camelot could trace every ticket.
He added: "Whatever happens, the commissioners should allow some sort of gesture to Martyn and Kay. It might not add up to pounds 3million, but it could soften the blow. This is the sort of bad publicity the lottery, which has been hit by falling sales, doesn't need."
Minister Mr Smith said he could not intervene personally.
He added: "The commission may wish to consider both how the present law operates in this case and to look at the basic fairness of the situation."
Barrister Richard Colbey said the Totts could take legal action under the 1977 Unfair Contract Terms Act, which stops large firms using small-print against the consumer.
Camelot, defending its treatment of the Totts during the 45 days it took to give them an answer, said last night: "We offered to keep them informed and meet them very regularly.
"But two weeks into the process, they said don't come back until you have a decision.
"They were offered counselling once the decision was given. At no point were they given any encouragement they were to be given the money."
A spokesman said Camelot had acted with "integrity".
When no ticket could be produced, the firm decided it was in the best interests of the claimants for it to test whether it had "discretion" to pay.
Both it and the commission concluded there was no such discretion. Setting a precedent would put the lottery at risk.
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Apr 30, 2001|
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