WORKMEN from Northern Electric forced entry into a pensioner's house over an unpaid bill for £100 only to find he had been dead for more than a year.

The company had successfully applied for a magistrates' warrant to break into Leon Sushko's home in Darlington and turn off the electric supply, after he failed to respond to a series of bills and final demands.

Ukrainian-born Mr Sushko, who came to England to work on the railways in Darlington during the Second World War, died in May last year, leaving no immediate relatives.

Neighbours who knew him have now accused Northern Electric of insensitivity over the issue.

They claim a meter reader who called at the house in Clifton Road had been told of Mr Sushko's death.

Merryn Hewitt, who lives nearby, said: "It is really a shame that this old fellow cannot rest in peace and I am quite offended at what has happened.

"It is surely wrong that people don't speak to each other to find out what is happening."

Mrs Hewitt described Mr Sushko as a "sad little figure, very slight and almost blind".

A note has been left on the window of his former property, explaining that Mr Sushko owed £101.

It also said that the locks had been changed, and gave a number to call to collect the new keys.

Julian Kenyon, for Northern Electric, said that 14 letters and reminders - which had not been returned - had been sent to the address before the decision to break in was taken.

The company was limited as to what checks it could make about a customer's circumstances because of the Data Protection Act.

Mr Kenyon said yesterday: "Unfortunately nobody has told us that the gentleman concerned has died. All our reminders have been totally ignored and, believing that he was still alive, we took this course of action.

"We have now amended our records accordingly.