A seafront trader claims he was left with a bill for thousands after water poured through the ceiling of his shop under Brighton seafront's arches.

John Stephenson, owner of Albion Gifts in Kings Road Arches, Brighton, claims the leak started after BT contractors lifted paving slabs in the road at the end of 1998 to lay new ducting.

He says he has been waiting ever since for someone to admit responsibility for the damage caused.

Father-of-two Mr Stephenson, of Woodhouse Road, Hove, said: "I'm not an engineer. All I know is after the work was done, water started dripping on my head.

"It got in through the ceiling and soaked all the straw hats and other goods I had stored for the summer season.

"It was so bad I could have had a shower under there. It ruined my stock and made the space unusable."

He claims he was eventually forced to build a false ceiling in the room to stop the water getting in.

Now he wants compensation for the building work, loss of earnings and damage to stock totalling more than £30,000.

His insurance policy has only paid out £400 for damaged stock and a new cash register.

A BT spokeswoman said the company had investigated Mr Stephenson's complaints and discovered a hole in the waterproof membrane beneath the flags.

However, in a letter to Mr Stephenson, who has run the shop with his wife Lisa for six years, the company denied responsibility.

Prakash Mistry, of the firm's dispute solutions department, said: "The work carried out did not involve or require any excavation.

"There is no suggestion on the balance of probabilities that BT's work, carried out by its independent contractors, caused any damage to the membrane and sand underneath the paving stones."

The spokeswoman said BT had returned to the site as "a gesture of goodwill" and had laid a waterproof membrane under the slabs.

They had referred Mr Stephenson to his landlord, Brighton and Hove City Council, which is also in charge of footpaths.

A council spokesman said there was little it could do to help and the arches regularly leaked because waterproofing beneath the pavement was so old.

He added: "It's a matter of opinion whether BT's work caused the current pattern of leaking.

"We can't say with any certainty whether it did or not. It's down to Mr Stephenson to prove BT caused the problem.

Mr Stephenson said: "BT doesn't want to speak to me any more.

"They said they are not going to reply to my letters and the council has washed its hands of me as well.

"My livelihood could end up down the drain because of this hole that has apparently suddenly appeared under the pavement.

"I'm caught like a kitten in the rain while everyone denies its their fault."