Awaab Ishak: Mould in Rochdale flat caused boy’s death, coroner ruleson November 15, 2022 at 3:38 pm

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Awaab Ishak’s family say they “shouted out as loudly as we could” but no-one helped.

Awaab IshakImage source, family handout

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 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”.

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

The inquest heard that action to treat the mould which caused the condition leading to Awaab going into respiratory arrest in December 2020 had not been taken.

Speaking via their solicitor after the hearing, the boy’s family said their lives “changed forever” when he died and they had been “left feeling absolutely worthless at the hands of RBH”.

No action taken

Delivering a narrative conclusion at Rochdale Coroner’s Court, the Manchester North senior coroner said 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,” she said.

“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 Awaab’s father Faisal Abdullah reported mould developing in the one-bedroom flat to RBH in 2017 and was told to paint over it.

The inquest heard that 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.

Mould

Image source, Greater Manchester Police

Ms Kearsley said that from July 2020 until December 2020, Awaab “continued to have chronic exposure to harmful mould”.

“The development of Awaab’s severe respiratory condition, which led to him going into respiratory arrest, was entirely due to the prolonged exposure he had to mould in his home environment,” she said.

She added that 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”.

The inquest heard Awaab had consistently suffered from cold and respiratory issues throughout his life and in September 2020, a community midwife had completed a special circumstances form to children’s services highlighting concerns about the mould and potential impact on his health.

Ms Kearsley said that document was not shared with the GP or health visitor and there was “no evidence” to show it was received by children’s services or to show that “any action was taken”.

Awaab Ishak with his birthday cake

Image source, Family handout

Black mould in room in flat

Image source, Police handout

Ms Kearsley said Mr Abdullah, who came from Sudan to live in the UK in 2016, had “some understanding and ability to converse in English”, but his wife Aisha Amin, who joined him a year later, had “very little”.

She said that fact was important “when considering the ability of professionals to engage in discussions with the family and when considering the ability of the family to explain any worries or concerns they had and to understand advice”.

The inquest heard Awaab had been born prematurely at 31 weeks, but there had been no concerns from any health professionals that he was not developing well.

“All the evidence suggest he was an engaging, lively, endearing two-year-old who was much loved and cared for by both of his parents,” the coroner said.

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Analysis

Philippa Roxby, Health reporter, BBC news

Moulds are caused by too much moisture in a building and they emit spores which can cause a variety of health effects.

Some people are particularly sensitive to them, such as babies and young children, older people and those with allergies or asthma.

For those with allergies, breathing in or touching mould spores can cause severe reactions, including asthma attacks, fever and shortness of breath, while for others, mould can bring on a runny nose, red or itchy eyes and irritated skin.

That’s why the NHS say you’re more likely to have respiratory problems, infections or asthma if you have damp or mould in your home and why the World Health Organization calls it a key element of indoor air pollution, and a major cause of illness and death worldwide.

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In a statement read by solicitor Kelly Darlington after the inquest, Awaab’s family said the “past two years have been gruelling”.

“When Awaab died, our lives changed forever,” they said.

“Two years on, the coroner has found that our little boy’s prolonged exposure to mould led entirely to his death.”

They added that they felt they had been “left feeling absolutely worthless at the hands of RBH”.

The family said their “beautiful” son “was always full of smiles, he liked to joke and was full of life and laughter”.

They added his absence “leaves a huge void” in their lives.

Mould

Image source, Greater Manchester Police

RBH chief executive Gareth Swarbrick said he was “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,” he said.

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

He said the organisation had and would continue to “learn hard lessons from this” and “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,” he said.

“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.”

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