Awaab Ishak: Mould in Rochdale flat caused boy’s death, coroner rules

Awaab Ishak: Mould in Rochdale flat caused boy’s death, coroner rules

A two-year-old boy died as a result of a severe respiratory condition caused by prolonged exposure to mould in his home, a coroner has concluded.

Awaab Ishak’s father repeatedly raised the issue with Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) but no action was taken.

Coroner Joanne Kearsley said RBH were not “proactive” and asked: “How in the UK in 2020 does a two-year-old child die as a result of exposure to mould?”

She said the case “should be a defining moment for the housing sector”.

Awaab’s family said their lives “changed forever” when he died in December 2020 and they had been “left feeling absolutely worthless at the hands of RBH”.

“We cannot tell you how many health professionals we’ve cried in front of and RBH staff we have pleaded to, expressing concern for the conditions ourselves and Awaab have been living in,” they said via their solicitor after the hearing.

“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.”

They said they was “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 chief executive Gareth Swarbrick said his organisation would continue to “learn hard lessons from this”.

Rochdale Coroner’s Court heard Awaab’s father Faisal Abdullah – who came from Sudan to live in the UK in 2016 and was joined by his wife Aisha Amin a year later – reported mould developing in the one-bedroom flat to RBH in 2017 and was told to paint over it.

The following year, Awaab was born prematurely at 31 weeks, but there had been no concerns from any health professionals about his development.

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

The court heard Awaab was taken to Rochdale Urgent Care Centre on 19 December 2020 with shortness of breath and transferred to Royal Oldham Hospital before being discharged.

He deteriorated the next day and his parents were advised by the community children’s nursing team to take him back to the urgent care centre.

He then went into respiratory arrest and cardiac arrest while being transferred to hospital and died after arriving there.

Delivering a narrative conclusion, the Manchester North senior coroner said there had been “an overall lack of an effective ventilation system in the property”, which was “a direct contributing factor in the development of the mould”.

“It is acknowledged by RBH and I find as a matter of fact that a more proactive response should have been taken to treat the mould which was present,” she said.

She said from July 2020 until his death, Awaab “continued to have chronic exposure to harmful mould”, which had led to his “severe respiratory condition” and “respiratory arrest”, both of which were “entirely due to the prolonged exposure he had”.

She said there was “no evidence that a special circumstances form to children’s services completed by a community midwife in September 2020, which highlighted concerns about the mould and potential impact on his health had been shared with Awaab’s GP or health visitor and nothing to show that “any action was taken”.

She said all the evidence suggested the toddler had been “an engaging, lively, endearing two-year-old, who was much loved and cared for by both of his parents” and his “tragic death… 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”.

Addressing Awaab’s parents directly, Ms Kearsley said he would “make a difference for other people”.

She added that Mr Abdullah had “some understanding and ability to converse in English”, but his wife had “very little”, a fact that was important as it impacted “the ability of professionals to engage in discussions with the family and… the ability of the family to explain any worries or concerns they had and to understand advice”.