Housing board SACKS boss after toddler was killed by mould in home
19th November 2022

Housing board SACKS chief executive who refused to resign after two-year-old boy was killed by ‘extensive’ mould in family’s flat

  • Toddler Awaab Ishak died in Rochdale just days before he turned two years old
  • He was killed from exposure to damp mould in his family flat, a coroner found
  • The boss of the housing group who own the flat has been forced out by his board
  • Gareth Swarbick said on Thursday he would not resign but has now left his role 

The boss of a housing group which owns the home where a toddler was killed by ‘extensive’ mould has been sacked following an outrage over the tragedy.

Gareth Swarbrick said on Thursday he would not resign over the death of Awaab Ishak, who was killed from exposure to the mould in his family home in Rochdale just days before he turned two years old.

However, he has now been forced out as chief executive of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) following days of public pressure.

The Board of RBH said in a statement: ‘The Board has taken the decision to remove Gareth Swarbrick from his post as Chief Executive of RBH with immediate effect. 

‘We will now work to appoint an external Interim Chief Executive.

‘Our original instincts were for Gareth to stay on to see the organisation through this difficult period and to make the necessary changes, but we all recognise that this is no longer tenable.’

Awaab Ishak tragically died from a respiratory condition in December 2020, just over a week after his second birthday

A vigil was held for Awaab in Rochdale today as the community vented their grief and fury over his death  

Toddler Awaab died tragically three years after his parents had complained about the shocking condition of their housing, which was covered in damp mould.

The toddler’s parents repeatedly begged housing officials and medical professionals to help, but no action was taken to treat and prevent the mould – leaving Awaab with ‘prolonged’ and ‘chronic’ exposure to the substance – due to a communication breakdown, the inquest into his death heard.

His father, Faisal Abdullah, who came to the UK from Sudan as an asylum seeker in 2015, claims his family felt ‘absolutely trapped’ when the toddler fell ill in their home which was ‘unfit for human habitation’. 

Mr Abdullah reported mould developing in the property to the Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) in 2017 – but was told to ‘paint over it’.

The RBH was notified of the problem again in 2020 but nothing was done to prevent the mould. The family pleaded with doctors and housing bosses for help as little Aswaab had trouble breathing. But just two days after being taken to hospital, the toddler’s condition worsened and he died four days before Christmas. 

Gareth Swarbrick has resigned despite saying he would not step down earlier this week 

In June 2020, Mr Abdullah instructed solicitors and initiated a claim over the recurring issue but policy meant any repairs would not be done until an agreement had been reached, the inquest heard

The inquest heard how RBH workers assumed the family were carrying out ‘ritual bathing’ involving a ‘bucket’ which was leading to excess water on the bathroom floor. 

But workers never asked the family directly about this, and Mr Abdullah told the court his family showered, and such ‘rituals’ were not in his family’s ‘culture’. 

Ms Kearsley ruled the two-year-old died after prolonged exposure to mould which caused fatal breathing difficulties. A post-mortem examination discovered ‘severe swelling’ of the boy’s airway and throat and tests also found fungus in his blood.

In her ruling, Ms Kearsley found ventilation at the home was ‘not effective’, and criticised RBH for blaming the family- insisting there was ‘no evidence that the ways of living by the family were in any way excessive’.

As she delivered her damning verdict, she told the inquest: ‘I’m sure I’m not alone in having thought, “How does this happen?  How, in the UK in 2020, does a two-year-old child die from exposure to mould in his home?”. 

The coroner also criticised the medical advice given to the boy’s parents after he developed breathing difficulties, alleging it attributed to his cardiac arrest

Senior coroner Joanne Kearsley argues the death of a toddler who suffered prolonged exposure to mould should be a ‘defining moment’ for the housing sector

Senior coroner Joanne Kearsley, presenting her findings at an inquest at Rochdale Coroner’s Court today, said the boy’s father alerted the Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) of the mould problem in July 2020

Ms Kearsley said the mould was due to ‘normal daily living activities’ and a lack of effective ventilation

‘The tragic death of Awaab will and should be a defining moment for the housing sector in terms of increasing knowledge, increasing awareness and a deepening of understanding surrounding the issue of damp and mould.’

Mr Abdullah issued an impassioned message to the RBH on Tuesday, telling officials to ‘stop discriminating, stop being racist, [and] stop providing unfair treatment to people coming from abroad who are refugees or asylum seekers.’

RBH added in its statement: ‘The Coroner noted that RBH had made changes as a result of the tragic death of Awaab. Under new leadership RBH will continue to embed these changes and to continue to drive further improvements to our homes and to our communications with tenants.

‘We are committed to sharing what we have learnt about the impact to health of damp, condensation and mould with the social housing sector, and to supporting sector wide changes. We will work with other agencies local and national and with central government in implementing the wider changes recommended to them by the Coroner.

‘As an organisation we are deeply sorry for the death of Awaab and devastated that it happened in one of our homes. We must ensure this can never happen again. His death needs to be a wake-up call for everyone in housing, social care and health.

‘We support the Coroner and Housing Ombudsman’s call for the government’s Decent Homes Standard to be strengthened to include damp and mould.

‘There will be no further statement at this time.’

‘We shouted as loudly as we could, but nothing changed. We were trapped’: Heartbreaking statement from parents who watched their little boy die

Faisal Abdullah issued a statement today, saying: ‘The past two years have been gruelling.

‘When Awaab died, our lives changed forever. Today, two years on, the coroner has found that our little boy’s prolonged exposure to mould led entirely to his death.

‘We still cannot get our head around the fact that despite all of the complaints we made to RBH, in addition to the information RBH received from an NHS member of staff expressing their concern for Awaab due to mould at the property, RBH did absolutely nothing to rectify the severe mould in our property.

‘We cannot tell you how many health professionals we’ve cried in front and RBH staff we have pleaded to expressing concern for the conditions ourselves and Awaab have been living in. We shouted out as loudly as we could, but despite making all of those efforts, every night we would be coming back to the same problem. Nothing was changing.

‘We felt like we weren’t getting anywhere, and we weren’t. Often our calls weren’t even answered. We don’t feel RBH actually cared about us.

‘Awaab’s coughing fits would sometimes last two to three days. There were days we wouldn’t be able to take Awaab out of the house because of how bad his coughing was – but of course by him staying in the house, this made his coughing worse. We were absolutely trapped.

‘Living in these conditions affected every aspect of our lives. We didn’t feel at peace with ourselves when in the property. All the time we felt troubled.

‘We were anxious and fearful of what the mould was doing to Awaab. Whenever friends would come to visit, they would tell us that the conditions RBH were keeping us in ‘were not right’.

‘We have no doubt at all that we were treated this way because we are not from the country and less aware of how the systems in the UK work. RBH we have a message for you – stop discriminating, stop being racist, stop providing unfair treatment to people coming from abroad who are refugees or asylum seekers, stop housing people in homes you know are unfit for human habitation. We were left feeling absolutely worthless at the hands of RBH.

‘If RBH ever come across similar issues again – we hope they deal with it in a more humane, efficient, professional way than how they behaved with us.

‘We want to end by telling you who our beautiful Awaab was. He was always full of smiles, he liked to joke and was full of life and laughter. He used to enjoy playing on his bike and with his ball. He always wanted to be with us. His absence leaves a huge void.

‘We would like to say a huge thank you for all the advice and support Farleys Solicitors and Christian Weaver of Garden Court North Chambers have given us throughout this difficult process. We would also like to thank HM Senior Coroner for carrying out such a thorough investigation into our son’s death.

‘Our lawyers very kindly worked on our case with no guarantee of payment. The legal aid agency only confirmed that the lawyers would be paid two days before the case started, despite preparations for the case having been ongoing for months and months. It should never be the case that families in our situation have to go through the inquest process without legal representation – singlehandedly up against multiple lawyers from the very bodies we feel bear responsibility for our child’s death.

‘Were it not for our legal team being so committed to representing us, even without payment, that could very well have been our reality. We fear that the admissions made by RBH in this inquest – such as their acceptance that they did receive the letter sent by the NHS health visitor warning of Awaab’s ill heath, along with the fact that they do accept they should have taken responsibility for the mould in our home may otherwise never have come out.

‘The family would now like to be left to process the findings of this inquest in private for the remainder of today.’

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