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Bereaved pensioner’s drains ordeal at Burwell home, near Newmarket, ‘was like living in the Middle Ages’

A bereaved pensioner was left unable to use her toilet or take a shower for almost two weeks after a water company failed to stop raw sewage flooding out of a drain outside her kitchen window.

Seventy-six-year-old Daphne Hanson, of Meadowlands, in Burwell, was forced to buy a portable toilet which she then had to empty down her neighbour’s manhole which was not blocked. “It was like living in the Middle Ages,” said Daphne, who had to try and deal with the issue as well as make arrangements for her late husband Andy’s funeral.

The problems for Daphne, who herself is waiting for treatment for cancer at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, started in the middle of February which is when she first reported the problem to Anglian Water.

Daphne Hanson who had to buy a portable toilet when sewage overflowing from a drain at her home meant she could not use any water in her house. Picture: Keith Heppell
Daphne Hanson who had to buy a portable toilet when sewage overflowing from a drain at her home meant she could not use any water in her house. Picture: Keith Heppell

Her drain had been discharging raw sewage outside her kitchen window and was then to the top of the manhole cover, so any use of water in her bungalow would have started the overflow again.

“Various Anglian Water technicians came out but said there was nothing they could do. They said it was all due to the heavy rain we had had and I would have to wait until it cleared,” she said.

But Daphne’s neighbour, Mary Hammond, who supported her during the crisis, said she spoke to the water company’s sub contractors based at a pumping station in Burwell’s Hythe Road on April 2 who said water levels were no longer high.

Daphne Hanson, right, with her neighbour Mary Hammond. Picture: Keith Heppell
Daphne Hanson, right, with her neighbour Mary Hammond. Picture: Keith Heppell

“Anglian Water were offering no solutions for Daphne, only signposting her to Cambridgeshire County Council who they said would supply her with a portable loo as they had an arrangement with them,” said Mary.

“The county council said there was no such agreement.”

“As a result, over the Easter weekend Daphne had to buy her own portable toilet while myself and neighbours took in her laundry and gave her the use of their bathrooms when needed. She was so very upset about the situation she was close to breaking point as all this came while she was grieving the loss of her husband and trying to arrange his funeral,” said Mary.

On Wednesday, Anglian Water had said it would send representatives to Daphne’s home to try to sort out the problem, but they failed to turn up for the planned meeting. Later that day technicians arrived and finally located the cause of the problem. A blockage in the pipes serving Daphne’s home which they used water jets to clear.

“I was able to do my first load of washing in about six weeks,” said Daphne, “but I am still paranoid about it. I am living in fear that the sewage is going to come back.”

A spokeswoman for Anglian Water said: “We went out to check what was going on at Mrs Hanson’s property in February.

“Our technician confirmed that the issue was related to extremely wet weather and high ground and surface water levels. Since then, we’ve returned six times to check the network nearby each time finding it was still overwhelmed by rainwater, groundwater and surface water.

“Last week, we found that the network was beginning to recover from this, since the weather has been drier, and this is when a partial blockage was found. We cleared the blockage, and we’ll be carrying out additional cleaning and CCTV investigations to make sure the system operates as it should. Our contractors will be in touch with Ms Hanson very shortly to arrange a time to carry out a full clean up at her property.

“Separately, we also replaced a pump in Burwell after Ms Hanson raised concerns about it. This pump is not on the same drainage system as Ms Hanson’s property, and was therefore not causing the issues she was experiencing.

“We have offered Ms Hanson a gesture of good will to reimburse her for the inconvenience caused.

She added: “Our teams continue to work incredibly hard to keep our sewer network running despite the persistent bad weather we’ve seen this winter. In Burwell the ongoing rainfall, combined with the already saturated ground, mean that we’re seeing widespread infiltration of excess water into our sewer network – there is simply a lot of water with nowhere to go. We’ve worked with this customer to help address the problem where we can, and now it’s drier we should see an improvement across the whole village.

“It means that while our network is operating the best it can, there's much less room for the sewage, which can cause problems.

“Responsibility for flooding and drainage requires response from many different organisations, businesses, and landowners, and it will take a combined response from all involved to put together a plan to address the issue in the long term.”

Daphne said: “The workings and infrastructure of Anglian Water needs looking into. Their customer service is very poor. The technicians do their best but there are so many layers of management what you say never gets heard. I have lived here for 50 years and I have never known anything like it. We have had flooding but nothing like this.”