When Waterlooville reader Roger Ladbrum decided it was time to give his front garden a makeover, he didn’t anticipate his best-laid plans were to land him in a bizarre three-month dispute with British Telecom.
Back in 2001, the 70-year-old retired engineer decided to dig up his front lawn and replace it with three areas of coloured decorative stone.
I cannot thank you enough for what you’ve done on my behalf with BT
He thought no more about it until April this year when he decided to remove the stone in two locations and re-turf it.
To get the ball rolling he tried digging out a few test areas, prior to having the garden rotavated.
But to his surprise and bewilderment he discovered a BT phone and broadband cable buried just one inch below the soil surface and running right across his garden.
The fit but hard-of-hearing pensioner struggled to make sense of his telephone calls to BT customer services when he complained and tried to sort out the matter.
April slipped into June, with BT customer services claiming it was a problem for Openreach staff to deal with, only for Openreach to respond by promptly batting it straight back to BT to deal with.
After more or less a month of this merry-go-round, a BT technician turned up and proceeded to rip part of the cable out of the ground.
He told Roger that if he insisted on his right to re-landscape his garden, the only other alternative would be to re-route the cabling overhead – but Roger would be liable for the cost of this work.
After the technician left without any suggestion about reburying the cable at a more acceptable depth, Roger again became embroiled in an absurd game of musical chairs with BT and Openreach, with neither party willing to stop the music and take responsibility.
Numerous promises were made by customer service staff to call him back, but by this time Roger was left with the distinct impression the promises were little more than an empty gesture.
After being given a formal BT complaint reference, he then received a letter from their dispute resolution team.
They told him there was no statutory requirement for BT to bury the cable any deeper and suggested that unless he carried out the work himself, they’d charge him.
If he didn’t like it he could always complain to the communications ombudsman.
Roger says that by this time he was beginning to get hot under the collar and promptly told BT what it could do with its suggestions.
Then an exasperated Roger hit upon the idea of calling Streetwise.
We took up his complaint with BT’s public relations team.
We accepted that BT had a legal right to run essential cabling under or over Roger’s land.
But when it clashed with his right to do as he wished in his own garden, it was a fundamental imposition and wholly unacceptable.
Following our intervention, an Openreach manager called on Roger and, after looking around the site with him, proceeded to open up a cabling duct running along a nearby front public verge.
He asked Roger to confirm when he wiggled a cable whether the cable in his front garden also moved, which it did.
To Roger’s relief and astonishment, the verdict was that the cabling in his garden was redundant and therefore no longer in use.
This was because the live phone and broadband cable had already been previously re-routed in the street.
We asked BT for an explanation, as Roger had been shoved from pillar to post for three months when his complaint could easily been resolved at the outset.
A spokesperson said: ‘An Openreach engineer visited Mr Ladbrum’s premises on Monday July 13.
‘The engineer confirmed that the buried cable in Mr Ladbrum’s garden was not active and showed Mr Ladbrum where he was getting his service from in the street.
‘We have apologised to Mr Ladbrum for the inconvenience caused with his cable request and we hope that he can now continue with his garden alterations.’
A delighted Roger said: ‘I cannot thank you enough for what you’ve done on my behalf with BT.
‘I just wasn’t getting anywhere until you got involved.’