Housing board SACKS chief executive who refused to resign after toddler was killed by mold in home

Author: Yuvi November 19, 2022

The boss of a housing group which owned the home where a toddler was killed by exposure to mold has been sacked following an outrage over the tragedy.

Gareth Swarbrick said on Thursday he would not resign over the death of Awaab Ishak 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 organization through this difficult period and to make the necessary changes, but we all recognize that this is no longer sustainable.’

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

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 mold – 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 mold 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 mold. 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

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

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 mold 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 criticized 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 mold in his home?’. 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 learned about the impact to health of damp, condensation and mold 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 organization 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.’

19 November, 2022, 8:08 pm

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Saturday, 19th November 2022

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