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

15 November 2022, 12:08 | Updated: 15 November 2022, 14:25

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 refugee parents of a two-year-old boy killed by mould in a flat that was "unfit for human habitation" have said they would not have been treated so badly if they were British.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Awaab Ishak 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.

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."

The family were living in a flat owned and managed by the housing association Rochdale Boroughwide Housing.

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.

In a message to the housing association 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.

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

Coroner Joanne Kearsley asked: "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."

Mould in the family flat
Mould in the family flat. Picture: Family handout

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.

'I have been into so many houses not fit for animals let alone humans!

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.

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."

The Rochdale Boroughwide Housing boss admitted the association made mistakes, but maintaned that they were proud of the work they do for their tenants.

Gareth Swarbrick said:  “I am truly devastated about Awaab’s death and the things we got wrong. “We know that nothing we can say will bring Awaab back or be of any consolation to his family. We have and will continue to learn hard lessons from this.

“We didn’t recognise the level of risk to a little boy’s health from the mould in the family’s home. We allowed a legal disrepair process, widely used in the housing sector, to get in the way of promptly tackling the mould.

“We must make sure this can never happen again. Awaab’s death needs to be a wake-up call for everyone in housing, social care and health. “We will take responsibility for sharing what we have learnt about the impact to health of damp, condensation and mould with the social housing sector and beyond.

“We support the Coroner and Housing Ombudsman’s call for the government’s Decent Homes Standard to be strengthened to include damp and mould, and the Coroner’s decision to write to the Ministers of Housing and Health on this.

“The Coroner recognised the changes we have made to our procedures, IT, communications and training. We note the Coroner’s words that she was impressed with the learning RBH has taken and desire to share with others. As a result, she will not be issuing us with a Prevention of Future of Deaths Report.

“We agree with the Coroner that the tragic death of Awaab will be and should be a defining moment for the housing sector. “

As a community owned organisation, we support the diverse communities of Rochdale. We are proud of the work we do with all our tenants.”