AN airline pilot from Thornton Watlass is suing the government in the European court for alleged discrimination over widowed fathers' benefits.

Mr Keith Bartlem has instructed a firm of solicitors in London to go ahead with the legal challenge, even though the new Human Rights Act means the payments he claims he did not receive simply because he was a man will now be made after April 1.

He said he was fighting on a point of principle over non-payment of certain benefits between June 12 last year, when his wife died, and March 31 this year.

Mr Bartlem, a 35-year-old Airtours captain whose identical twin sons Lewis and Sean are three years old, said a widowed mother in a similar position received a £1,000 payment towards funeral expenses and a widowed woman's allowance of about £4,500 a year.

He said: "I didn't get either just because I am a man, but I am taking the government to court for the principle of it, not the money. I have had to employ a nanny and keep on working and child care costs have just gone through the roof.

"It is hassle I could have done without, having already lost my wife. It is blatant discrimination on grounds of gender.''

Mr Bartlem, whose job often takes him away from home, added: "If I had not had a well-paid job I would have been in real trouble and it's frightening. I have a feeling of injustice about it but there's maybe also a bit of doggedness.

"Other widowers out there have had to give up their jobs because they can't afford to keep working but they are penalised because they don't get allowances given to widowed mothers and have real problems with pensions.

"I have been very lucky in being able to hold on to the job I have but it is not easy.''

Mr Bartlem said that even after the situation changed on April 1, he did not know whether he would receive all the money to which he would be entitled because he had so far been unable to resolve questions about his late wife's national insurance contributions.

A spokesman for the campaign for widowed fathers' benefits in Bristol said one effect of the Human Rights Act had been the Welfare Reform Act, passed by the British parliament, under which the situation for people like Mr Bartlem would change after April 1.

Even then, however, there would still be inequalities in the question of back payment and the ""incredible'' fact that the widows' pension would be preserved for existing widows while being withheld from widowed men in the same situation.

The spokesman said: "The government is still using excuses which it will not argue in court. Many men have been disadvantaged for many years.

"At the time when you need financial help most it is not there. We know of widowed men with four or five children who have been crucified by the system.'