AT least seven cars were damaged in just 40 minutes by a large pothole – but a council is refusing to reimburse the drivers.

The revelation comes just days after concerns were raised about the state of Darlington's roads for people with disabilities, and the AA last night warned there was a pothole 'epidemic' in the UK.

The motoring organisation said the problem was costing drivers and insurers at least £1m a month in total due to massive car repair bills.

And the number of pothole-related claims it had seen during the first four months of 2018 alone was more than for the whole of 2017.

Drivers whose cars were damaged by the huge pothole on the Sadberge to Sedgefield Road, just south of Great Stainton, are angry after Darlington Borough Council said it had inspected the road just nine days previously and would not be helping them to repair their vehicles.

Sarah Smith, from Newton Aycliffe, had to put her £750 repairs on her credit card but due to a £500 insurance excess she only received £250 back.

She has now had to cancel her one-year-old son's first holiday to Majorca because the family can no longer afford it.

She said: "It caused a lot of damage to the car but also the wheel. It was just after all the snow and although the council had checked it a few days before I think they should have checked it after the snow as well. There were about ten cars hit it and had to stop because of damage.

"The farmer filled it in temporarily and the police were there, and the council came out soon afterwards to repair it properly."

Joe Gibbons, from Gateshead, was driving his classic Jaguar down around the same time on the same day in March when he struck the pothole, causing £1,500 of damage.

He said seven cars were damaged in the space of 40 minutes.

"The pothole was about 1.5m across and I know the weather was bad but I don't believe it can have just appeared overnight," he said.

"I put getting the car fixed on hold until I heard back from the council but they said they're not going to reimburse us for the damage. People's wheels were bent, it wasn't just a little bit of damage."

Kevin Nicholson, an independent councillor on Darlington council, who has launched a 'pothole patrol' due to what he describes as a massive problem in the town, said the council's systems for checking the roads were 'twenty years out of date'.

And he said an online pothole reporting system the council had on its website, allowing the public to report potholes, see if other people had reported them, and timescale for them being repaired, had been out of order for some time.

"If it was still working the people at Great Stainton could have checked to see if the pothole had already been reported and if the council knew about it," he said.

He said Darlington council had been given an extra £187,000 specifically for potholes – but said its reporting system wasn't fit for purpose.

A Darlington Borough Council spokeswoman said: “The monthly inspection of Elstob Lane was carried out on Monday, February 26 and no actionable defects were found.

“We had no reports of a pothole in the location indicated until the morning of March 7. The highways team responded immediately to those calls and the area was made safe by 10.30am.

“In poor weather conditions, potholes can open up suddenly and without warning.

“Inspectors and repair teams patrol the borough’s roads every day of the week and repair dozens of potholes each day.

“In February, 1,214 potholes were repaired, with a further 1,291 defects made safe in March.

“Anyone who has a concern about a pothole can report it to, giving as much information about the location as possible."

The AA yesterday described the number of potholes as an "epidemic" and a "national embarrassment".

With an estimated average repair bill of around £1,000, the total this year so far comes to "an eye-watering" £4.2m, it said.

Janet Connor, the AA's director of insurance, said local council budgets had been squeezed to the extent that competing priorities meant they didn't have the resources to keep their roads up to scratch.