VILLAGERS were left confused after their reinstated telephone lines were reconnected to each other's phone numbers.

Telephone poles were knocked down in Rousham, near Bicester in March after a lorry crashed into them causing residents to be cut off from the outside world.

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The poles were fixed three weeks later, but The Guardian reported that only gradually did residents then realise that they had been reconnected to each other’s phone numbers.

According to the Guardian, the resulting chaos caused a new mother to summon someone else’s husband, an unwitting resident to make costly transatlantic calls on a neighbour’s contract, and an elderly woman, who is dependent on her phone, to be moved into respite care.

With poor mobile signals, residents of the tiny village rely on landlines for their phone calls and broadband.

The community was still incommunicado when Emily Fermor gave birth prematurely in her sitting room. Service was restored while she and the baby were in hospital for observation, and she only discovered the switched lines when she rang from the ward to ask her husband to collect her, and her nextdoor neighbour, Theo Jones, answered.

“He’d been given our landline number and had to rush round to our house to find my husband,” Emily says. “It turned out we’d been given the number of a lady up the road.

“People were getting really confused – it was a case of ‘You’re not my mother!’ when they made calls and heard a neighbour answering. If I hadn’t been on maternity leave, my neighbour would have been receiving all my work calls.”

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The Fermors’ number was given to Jones and his wife, whose number appears to have been connected to an empty house in the village. “When Emily rang, thinking she was calling home, I didn’t realise she’d had the baby and assumed she wanted me to rush her to hospital for the birth,” Theo says. “I tried calling my own number but it rang out unanswered. It was hugely disorientating.”

The Joneses spent six weeks either with no landline or with the Fermors’ number, which they were reluctant to use in case the other family was billed.

“It was alarming because my wife is pregnant and under hospital care but she couldn’t give doctors her number because it had been allocated to another property, so she missed several telephone checkups,” Theo says.

“It’s affected some elderly residents quite badly. One lady had to move into a care home because she couldn’t live safely without a landline, and another made calls to the US while unwittingly connected to his neighbour’s number (and contract), which left us wondering who’ll be liable for the costs.”

Openreach, which is responsible for the UK telecoms infrastructure, and relaid the damaged lines, says that about 15 of the 20-odd homes in the village lost service after the lorry crash and blames the number bungle on the 'extensive and complex' nature of the repairs.

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“Customers wouldn’t have been immediately aware of the crossed lines – which meant further delays before this issue came to our attention,” it says.

Telecoms customers must liaise with their service provider, rather than Openreach, over network problems, and the business of reclaiming lines and apportioning bills is complicated as residents are contracted to different companies.

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