A long and sad story, but worth the read.
10 Dec 2009
I live on a main trunk road (the A5). a concrete reinforced road
In 2005, a large area of highway around 21 feet by 5 feet, subsided by about 5 inches outside my house . I told the Highway Authority (London Borough of Barnet) on many occasions and they temporarily repaired the potholes within it, but they kept reforming.
My front garden wall, which had stood for 30 + years, developed cracks. The foot-way subsided by about 2 inches. My house was shaken by a THUD every time a heavy vehicle hit the subsided area. Barnet said my wall damage was caused by leaks from the Three Valleys Water main
Barnet said there was nothing more they could do until 3VW repaired their main. The road got worse, mud was being squeezed up from below the road in many places and more potholes formed further up the road.
I took numerous photos of the potholes and my damage. The local councillor told Barnet in writing that she feared a dreadful accident would occur due to the state of the Highway as the buses were swaying back and forth alarmingly. The local newspaper did an article about the severe road damage on this stretch of road.
3VW ran tests but said they could not find any leaks. 3VW had a survey done that said it was unlikely that there were any leaks and the foot-way showed no signs of significant movement.
Neither Barnet nor 3VW would accept responsibility for the damage. The Road got worse with holes and fissures literally big enough to get your hand into.
I took Barnet and 3VW "jointly and severally" to the small claims court. Barnet's defence was under section 58 of the Highways Act. 3VW's defence was that there was nothing to link the road damage to my wall damage.
They both disobeyed the court order to disclose documents. I told the court but they did not do anything about this.
Barnet had to reconstruct, from the bottom up, 200 metres of road at a cost to the council taxpayer of £250,000. They said they would seek to recover all their costs from 3VW. 3VW offered £130,000 - "take it or leave it" . Barnet accepted.
When the road was excavated they found numerous leaks, and a broken water-main 14 metres away from my house.
I made an FOI request and Barnet sent me a report by 3VW that said the water-mains were leaking because the road was subject to seismic activity by the heavy vehicles hitting the numerous road scars.
The joint surveyor was appointed by the parties from the "Law Society Expert Witness List" , He turned out to know very little about his field. His report said my wall had a design flaw, but also said he was not certain that the vibration from traffic had not caused the damage.
(Unfortunately, I chose him from the "Law Society List" but I'm told this is now run by Chambers Publishing who do not vet or remove any surveyors from their list for any reason.- as long as they pay the listing fee, they can be on the list.)
I have since told him that his report was "Not fit for purpose" and I would not pay his invoice - this was a year ago, he has not yet replied.
The case was transferred into the Fast Track. They were ordered to disclose again. This time they did so, but omitted to mention their inconvenient documents. (3VW did not disclose their "seismic activity" report and Barnet did not disclose their relevant correspondence.) i.e. they made false disclosure statements.
I did not believe that Barnet had given me all their documents and made another FOI request.
I got a formal letter from a surveyor who is in fact the chairman of the British Standards Institute committee that sets out the codes of practice for brickwork construction, He inspected my wall and says it has NO design defect and the most likely cause is subsidence or ground-heave due to excess water underground.
The other parties refused to acknowledge this letter. I could not afford the cost of the Fast Track and had to discontinue.
They both pursued me for costs. They wanted around £8K + each
After a lot of prodding from the Information Commissioner, Barnet sent me their correspondence which says that it is 3VW's normal and habitual practice, when faced with a large problem, to deny that they have any leaks until visual proof is presented to them. i.e. until it bursts through the road surface or until Barnet dig a hole and show them the leak on their main.)
They did not disclose this correspondence twice to the court and broke the FOI Act on two occasions. The Barnet employee who made the disclosure statement was also the same person who wrote and received a lot of the correspondence.
When the hearing for costs came up. the Judge did not want to hear anything about Barnet's or 3VW's dishonesty to the court, she awarded them around £3,400 (total) for their costs in the Fast Track.
In short, Barnet and 3WV negligently caused £250,000 worth of damage (and £5,000 worth of damage to my property.) In the face of all the evidence they will deny liability. They have surveyors who will say whatever their client wants them to say. They have well-paid devious lawyers, they will withhold any evidence that does not assist them throughout the court case.
OFWAT do not get involved, the Consumer Council for Water, (as they will admit) are completely toothless, My MP is useless.
The Courts do not want the complication of looking into allegations of dishonesty, they want a nice simple case, and as soon as it's out of the Small Claims court, The Council and the Water Co. know they have unlimited amounts of public money to fight the case and you do not.
It has cost Barnet and 3VW £8k + each to dishonestly defeat my claim for £5,000. I am on a low income but I have had to get a bank loan to pay the costs.
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