More than 30 homes in Cross-in-Hand were left with no phone lines for 12 days after a tree crashed onto power and telecoms lines in storms on Saturday, October 20.
The giant beech tree also brought down electricity cables in Back Lane but residents said EDF restored supplies later that day. Council engineers also leapt into action, cleared the road and ensured the area was safe. But in spite of dozens of calls from mobiles, BT failed to reconnect landlines leaving many elderly, vulnerable people unable to make emergency calls.
Until that is, they rang the Sussex Express on Monday to complain. After a call from the Express, BT press officers emailed to say new cabling would be installed by Wednesday.
Resident Mike Scruby said: “Lots of older people live here and they don’t have mobiles. They ask: “What happens if there is a fire or we need to call an ambulance?”
Neighbour David Robinson said calls to BT’s overseas-based call centres failed to yield a result and operators were reading from scripts. He went on: “People told me I had to register with them in order to talk to someone in the UK and we had to wait 48 hours for them to call us.......but we had no phones.”
He continued: “All we get are platitudes. They tell us they will ring us back by 5pm and then they ask for your number, but you can’t give them one as the landlines are disconnected. A lot of people here work from home and their Broadband and Internet connections have been down.”
Replying to Monday’s call from the Express, on Tuesday BT dispatched this email. It read: “We have 22 reports of people that have lost service due to this incident of the tree bringing down the overhead line. We have carried out a full engineering survey to work out all the repairs needed, and engineers are due on site today to work on putting in new cabling to restore service. We are hoping that all will be restored by tomorrow but we will be doing all we can to complete sooner if we are able to.”
By Tuesday pm one line was connected into the Scruby family’s home but the house phone was still out of action. Mike said the problem was exacerbated by BT staff shortages, with pole engineers rather than cable specialists dispatched to do the job. “My son emailed senior people at BT and we had a call from the company chairman’s office promising action.”