A retired couple says they must knock down and rebuild their £800,000 home, after 500 litres of toxic kerosene was accidentally pumped into it - but their insurers refuse to pay the cost. The delivery of the highly toxic kerosene had been intended for their neighbours but a new tanker driver picked the wrong pipe and sent it gushing into the side of their house. Now, 11 months after the accident, Trevor and Elizabeth Piggott have filed a High Court claim for the cost of rebuilding the five-bedroom property to eliminate the toxic vapours that still contaminate it.
Dispute: Trevor and Elizabeth Piggott say their home must be demolished and rebuilt after an oil company accidentally pumped 500 litres of kerosene into the property
Retired businessman Mr Piggott, 66, said: ‘We can’t move back in because it remains contaminated. You can still smell the kerosene in every corner of the house. ‘We simply can’t accept that through no fault of our own we should have our home seriously devalued and left stinking of dangerous chemicals. ‘Our only recourse has been to pay our own costs and go to law to argue that to decontaminate it entirely it would need to be demolished and a new property built.’ The couple was preparing breakfast in their designer kitchen on December 29 last year when disaster struck.
'I wasn't even dressed,' recalled Mrs Piggott, 65. 'We were recovering from having 21 family and friends for Boxing Day and it was one of those lazy mornings between Christmas and New Year. 'We saw the oil tanker pull up outside to deliver next door and Trevor said he was going to have a word with the driver because on recent deliveries they had spilt oil into the hedgerow outside causing it to die back. 'Something distracted us and a couple of minutes later this young man was running up our drive shouting, “Where's your tank?”. ‘The answer was that we don’t have an oil tank as this property has been on Calor gas for 20 years. When Trevor went outside to see what was happening, he found himself paddling in oil. It was the start of a nightmare which is still going on.'
Home area: The couple's house is in the hamlet of Little Billington in Bedfordshire, near Leighton Buzzard
The company, GB Oils, have admitted liability for the error, which was caused by a new employee attaching the tanker full of kerosene to the wrong pipe at the front of the properties in the hamlet of Little Billington, Bedfordshire. Inexplicably, he had not seen the pipe on the right, which served the Piggott's neighbours and instead blasted in excess of 500 litres of oil through the redundant pipe, which led to the side of their bungalow. Within seconds the oil dispersed into the clay-built foundations of the £800,000 detached bungalow, which stands in five acres of land. Worse still, the vapours from the oil permeated every corner of the home and its contents.
Within hours, GB Oils had sent out a 'spill team' followed by an environmental rep from their insurers with a meter to test for dangerous fumes. 'Wherever he went in the house be it the conversion upstairs or downstairs, his meter was glowing red,' said Mrs Piggott. 'He just said, "This is extremely serious. You can't stay here. You must go to a hotel". The fumes were just overwhelming. 'All the Christmas decorations were up, the fridge was full of food and drink for New Year but we ended up fleeing to a hotel.’
Admission: The company, GB Oils (whose head office in Warrington is pictured), have admitted liability for the error which was caused by a new employee attaching the tanker full of kerosene to the wrong pipe
The next day, the spill team fitted an extractor fan to a hole punched through the foundations and told the couple to close the doors and windows to allow it to work effectively. They left at 4pm on Friday, telling them they would be back after the long New Year weekend. 'I remember trying to cook us a meal,' said Mrs Piggott, 'but the fumes were too much. I felt nauseous and had a headache. My husband, who has had a bad heart, was sick and started getting palpitations. 'Despite making endless calls, no-one got back to us until the following Tuesday so we were left to cope with this appalling situation on our own. We ended up retrieving what we could and going to our daughter’s house.’ When their own insurers, Lloyds, sent a loss adjustor to assess the damage, the Piggotts were told that it could be ‘remediated’.
Large trenches have been dug at other end of the property in an attempt to flush out the oil and the Piggott’s have been told that there is no more that the insurance companies are willing to do. So, 11 months on, the home that had been the hub of their family life, looks like a crime scene with warning tape stretched around it, large holes leading into the foundations and its interior covered in polythene sheeting. The heady smell of chemicals remains. The Piggott's High Court papers claim damages ‘in excess of £300,000 from the oil company and their home insurers, Lloyds TSB including £60,258.05 for the contents of their home which were ruined in the accident along with losses for personal injury, and costs. ‘Our experts have said that kerosene contains some volatile components and if you can smell them there is a risk to health,’ said Mr Piggott.
Building changes: When their own insurers, Lloyds, sent a loss adjustor to assess the damage, the Piggotts were told that it could be 'remediated' (file picture)
‘To decontaminate the house entirely it would need to be demolished and a new property built. Their remediation has not gone far enough. 'At least they should have excavated the entire downstairs, removed the contaminated soil and installed a vapour membrane in the damp proof course.’ The trauma has triggered bouts of insomnia in Mrs Piggott, a mother of four and grandmother of nine. ‘We just woke up one morning and lost our happy home of 14 years,’ she added. 'It is our major asset, our retirement fund and was our pride and joy. ‘You would hope that insurance companies would be there for you. All we seek is a fair and just response to this dreadful incident from those responsible.’
A spokesman for Lloyds TSB said: ‘We are confident that Mr and Mrs Piggot’s home can be restored to its original state with no requirement for demolition, based on the advice we have received from oil spill remediation experts. ‘We appreciate this is a stressful time for our customers and are committed to supporting them through the period of their claim.’ A spokesman for Warrington based GB Oils said: 'All parties are working to ensure an appropriate resolution for those involved. As the case is now a legal matter it would be inappropriate for us to comment further.'
Daily Mail UK