Damage dispute ‘infuriating’ as council denies Acorn Plus liable

JPCT 10-04-12 Five Oaks, Kevin Downes, whose garden boundary wall was allegedly damaged by Acorn Plus lorry   S12150665a -photo by Steve Cobb
JPCT 10-04-12 Five Oaks, Kevin Downes, whose garden boundary wall was allegedly damaged by Acorn Plus lorry S12150665a -photo by Steve Cobb

A FURIOUS homeowner who says he watched an Acorn Plus lorry crash into his garden wall vented his rage to the County Times this week after the council denied all liability.

Kevin Downes, who lives in Stane Street at Five Oaks, was at home in November when he observed the side-loading lorry fail to pick up his bin, damaging a pier on his boundary wall.

Mr Downes claims the driver initially agreed to phone in the damage, but when the resident contacted Horsham District Council and the local authority’s insurers, they claimed the driver denied all knowledge of the incident and even said he noticed damage to the wall weeks before.

He described his five-month saga as ‘infuriating’.

“It’s not about the money, it’s about the principle,” he said.

“They should not be able to get away with it.”

When he first rang up the council an officer told him to claim it on his house insurance, but when he investigated this, his insurer told him he would lose his no-claims bonus and his premiums would rise considerably.

Next, HDC’s insurers denied Mr Downes’ request to see the witness statement, but he says they verbally confirmed the driver denied that the incident took place.

He then tried to involve his parish and district councillors, but he claims HDC told them not to get involved. He also used the council’s complaints line three times without success.

He explained: “Initially he was very helpful and said he would do whatever he could but he was told in no uncertain terms, ‘It’s out of your league, don’t get involved’.”

Mr Downes is issuing a warning to all Horsham district residents to remain vigilant over damage done to vehicles and properties.

To his knowledge no one from the council has visited his property to inspect the damage, and he was particularly disgusted by HDC defaulting to their insurers.

“You can’t do that. Just come out and have a look,” he said.

The County Times asked Horsham District Council the following questions:

Has anyone from Horsham District Council inspected the damage?

Has Horsham District Council discouraged parish councillors and district councillors from getting involved?

What measures have Horsham District Council taken to ensure that Mr Downes was dealt with fairly?

Is Mr Downes’ claim against Horsham District Council closed? If not, what is currently being done about the claim?

Has Horsham District Council advised Mr Downes to contact police over criminal damage to his property if it was not caused, as he says, by the Acorn Plus lorry?

Mr Downes claimed that a council officer advised him to claim the repairs on his buildings insurance. Is this standard?

In response a spokesperson for Horsham District Council said: “As is always the case with alleged damage by one of our vehicles, this matter was referred to our insurers immediately after Mr Downes contacted the Council and the claim has been dealt with by them.

“In common with all motor insurance claims, the Council - as policy holder - is unable to comment on the details of the claim once it has been referred. It is common practice in such cases for the claimant to similarly put the matter in the hands of their insurer and Mr Downes has been advised of this.”

In February 2011 the County Times reported that the number of insurance claims made by the public against waste collection vehicles in the Horsham district had almost trebled in the previous two years.

We had requested the figures from HDC after a reader complained that an Acorn Plus truck had damaged her car.

Between 2008 and 2009 58 incidents were reported but this increased to 150 claims the following year. In July 2009 the Acorn Plus service was introduced and over the next 18 months the side loading system was rolled out district-wide.