Daily Mail

How does this happen?

Coroner’s call for answers after death of boy aged two from exposure to mould in f lat

- By James Tozer

A CORONER yesterday demanded to know how a boy of two could die from exposure to mould in his home in one of the richest countries on Earth.

Awaab Ishak’s parents repeatedly begged housing officials and medical profession­als to help, a heartbreak­ing inquest heard.

But through a mixture of bureaucrac­y and communicat­ion breakdown, nothing was done to stop the appalling mould spreading across the walls, floor and ceilings of their flat in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.

Coroner Joanne Kearsley said Awaab’s tragic death, which came on the back of coughing fits that lasted for up to three days, should be a ‘defining moment’ for the housing sector.

‘I’m sure I’m not alone in having thought, “How does this happen?”’ she said.

‘How, in the UK in 2020, does a two-year-old child die from exposure to mould in his home?’ The youngster’s family said they were left feeling ‘absolutely worthless’.

‘We cannot tell you how many health profession­als we’ve cried in front of and Rochdale Boroughwid­e Housing staff we have pleaded to, expressing concern for the conditions ourselves and Awaab have been living in,’ they said. ‘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.’ The death prompted calls from campaigner­s for action to tackle unhealthy conditions in social housing and private rentals across the country.

Meanwhile Housing Secretary Michael Gove last night said it ‘beggars belief’ that the chief exec

‘We shouted as loudly as we could’

utive of Rochdale Boroughwid­e Housing (RBH), Gareth Swarbrick, was still in a job.

Awaab’s father, Faisal Abdullah, came to the UK from Sudan as an asylum seeker in 2015, settling into the one-bed flat the following year. In 2017 he began noticing ‘black dots’ on the wall and, having never seen mould before, asked RBH for advice, the inquest heard.

He was advised to paint over it, but not told to use specialist antimould paint, and the problem returned. At the start of 2018 he was joined by his wife, Aisha Amin, and in February that year Awaab was born prematurel­y at 31 weeks.

By 2019 the mould was worsening, with Awaab suffering repeated respirator­y infections, and Mr Abdullah applied to be rehoused.

Health visitors and midwives wrote in support of his applicatio­n, but the inquest heard the requests were not logged properly. As a result, housing workers were unaware a young child was living in the flat. Meanwhile, Mr Abdullah had been put in touch with a solicitor representi­ng tenants with damp and mould problems, and a claim was submitted in July 2020.

The inquest heard it was RBH policy not to conduct remedial work on properties subject to legal claims until solicitors had approved it. In December 2020, Awaab was struggling to breathe through his nose and suffering with a ‘continuous cough’.

On December 21, he went into cardiac arrest and died while being transferre­d to the Royal Oldham Hospital. Fungus was found in his blood and lungs. He died of ‘a severe respirator­y condi tion caused due to prolonged exposure to mould in his home environmen­t’, the coroner concluded, blaming poor ventilatio­n.

Through family lawyer Kelly Darlington of Farleys Solicitors, Awaab’s parents said RBH needed to ‘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’.

Mr Swarbrick said Awaab’s death should be a ‘wake-up call for everyone in housing, social care and health’. He admitted the housing associatio­n – which owns and manages Rochdale’s former council housing stock – failed to ‘recognise the level of risk’ of the mould. In response to the allegation of racism, he said RBH was ‘proud’ of its work with Rochdale’s ‘diverse’ communitie­s. Danny Meredith, Rochdale Borough Council’s cabinet member for housing, said Awaab and his family had lived in ‘degrading’ conditions. The Labour councillor said the ‘appalling state of their home and the indifferen­t response to their pleas for help’ were ‘ shaming’ and raised ‘serious questions’ for RBH, and he too was writing to Mr Swarbrick.

Experts have warned of a ‘dire’ problem with damp and mould in social housing, with an ageing stock and soaring energy bills causing tenants to cut back on heating. Mr Gove’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communitie­s has said upcoming legislatio­n will ‘drive up standards’.

 ?? ?? Tragedy: Awaab Ishak’s coughing fits lasted up to three days
Tragedy: Awaab Ishak’s coughing fits lasted up to three days
 ?? ?? Appalling: The black mould seen in the Rochdale flat
Appalling: The black mould seen in the Rochdale flat

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