A British woman has won the legal right to sue a man who sexually assaulted her, then won a big lottery jackpot while serving a prison sentence for the attack.

The 78-year-old victim, identified only as Mrs. A, was told by the High Court in London that she can seek punitive damages from her attacker, Iorworth Hoare, who has a long criminal record of rape and assault convictions.

Hoare won £7 million (about $14 million Cdn) from a lottery ticket he bought in 2004 while on a supervised day trip outside prison. He received his money when he was released in 2005, after serving 16 years of a life sentence for attacking Mrs. A.

She first sought to sue Hoare when she learned about his winnings, but lower courts had ruled that the time limit for compensation claims had run out.

Britain’s highest legal authority, the Law Lords, rejected that principle earlier this year and sent the case back to the High Court for a definitive judgment.

In his ruling delivered Tuesday, Judge Peter Coulson said he accepted that Mrs. A did not sue Hoare immediately after the attack because he did not have any money.

No green light for lawsuits: judge

Coulson said in court that the case was "wholly exceptional" and should not be seen as a green light for victims of crime to start suing criminals years after an offence has taken place.

"It will be even rarer for such a defendant, years later, to buy a lottery ticket which wins him  £7 million or otherwise comes into an unexpected fortune which makes him suddenly worth pursuing after all," the judge said.

In a statement that formed part of the court ruling, Mrs. A said: "I very strongly believe he should be held accountable to me for his attack on me and the … damage the attack caused me over the years. The attack fundamentally changed me and I am not the person I used to be."

Mrs. A said she still suffered from nightmares, and the brutality of the assault had destroyed her self-esteem and wrecked relationships.

British media reports said Hoare lives under an assumed name in a $1.4-million home near the northern city of Newcastle, where he is shunned by his neighbours and has frequently been subjected to verbal abuse by passersby.

A businessman was convicted of uttering threats against him in 2006, the Times of London reports.

With files from the Associated Press