Boss of housing association that owned mould-infested home where Awaab Ishak, 2, died is fired

19 November 2022, 13:51 | Updated: 19 November 2022, 15:06

Awaab Ishak was killed by the mould in his flat
Awaab Ishak was killed by the mould in his flat. Picture: Family handout

By Kit Heren

The boss of the housing association that owned the mould-infested home that contributed to the death of Awaab Ishak has been fired, the organisation said.

Gareth Swarbrick, chief executive of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, had previously said he would not quit, despite an inquest finding that Awaab's family home was 'unfit for human habitation'.

Awaab died of a severe respiratory condition that was caused by prolonged exposure to mould in his home in Rochdale, just a few days after his second birthday in December 2020, Rochdale Coroners Court found on Tuesday.

Awaab was found dead with fungus in his blood and his lungs, and his airways were extremely swollen, probably because of an allergic reaction.

The coroner ruled that housing association Rochdale Boroughwide Housing should have done more to make the house safe for Awaab.

His parents Faisal Abdullah and Aisha Amin, who came from Sudan as asylum seekers, said after the ruling: "We have no doubt at all that we were treated this way because we were not from the country, and less aware of how the systems in the UK work."

Awaab Ishak at a birthday
Awaab Ishak at a birthday. Picture: Family handout

A spokesperson for the housing association said in a statement on Saturday: "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.

“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."

Andrew Castle shares his outrage at Awaab Ishak's death

It comes after Awaab's parents labelled the housing association as racist for their treatment of the family.

In a message to RBH given by their lawyers, Awaab's parents said: "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 Rochdale Boroughwide Housing," they added.

Coroner Joanne Kearsley asked at the inquest: "How in the UK in 2020 does a two-year-old child die as a result to exposure to mould?"

"This is not simply a Rochdale problem or a social housing problem," she added.

"The tragic death of Awaab Ishak should be a defining moment for the housing sector."

"Ventilation in the bathroom was not effective, there was a lack of ventilation in the kitchen and an overall lack of an effective ventilation system in the property.

"This was a direct contributing factor in the development of the mould."

Housing solicitor says Awaab Ishak's death was '100% avoidable'.

She added: "It is acknowledged by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing and I find as a matter of fact that a more proactive response should have been taken to treat the mould.

"From July 2020 until December 2020... Awaab continued to have chronic exposure to harmful mould.

"Awaab, "a happy, smiley baby", was the son of Mr Abdullah, an asylum seeker who moved to the UK in 2015, and his wife Ms Amin, who came to the country in February 2018.

Awaab was born prematurely and suffered colds and respiratory infections throughout his life, but was mostly healthy.

Awaab Ishak
Awaab Ishak. Picture: Family Handout

Mr Abdullah moved into the flat in 2016 and repeatedly asked the housing association for help with mould from October 2017. Council surveyor Daniel McVey said the flat was "unfit for human habitation".

He eventually took legal action and his case was picked up by solicitors in June 2020

.Awaab's parents said: "We shouted out as loudly as we could but despite making all those efforts every night we’d be comnig back to the same problem. Nothing was changing - we felt like we were getting nowhere…

"Awaab’s coughing fits would sometimes last two or three days. There were days we wouldn’t be able to take him out of the house because of how bad his coughing was. But of course by him staying in the house it was making his coughing worse. We were absolutely trapped."

They added: "All the time we felt troubled. we were anxious and fearful of what the mould was doing to Awaab."

Rochdale Boroughwide Housing told Mr Abdullah that it was its policy not to do repairs on a property that was subject to a legal complaint until solicitors had approved it.

Awaab was rushed to the hospital on December 19 2020 with breathing problems, but was later discharged.

He was taken back the next day and died after suffering a heart attack brought on by respiratory failure.

Read more: 'This wouldn’t have happened if we were British': Parents of boy, 2, killed by mould slam 'racist' landlord

Read more: Housing campaigner Kwajo Tweneboa deems death of Awaab Ishak 'corporate manslaughter'

Giving evidence at the inquest, Ms Amin said: "When anyone came to the flat they said it was disgusting and I felt sad about it. I would rather visit my friends than have people visit the flat."

Describing Awaab after the inquest, his parents said: "He was always full of smiles, he liked to joke and was always full of laughter. He used to enjoy playing with 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 of the advice and the support."