Awaab Ishak: Board sacks housing boss after boy killed by mould

Two-year-old Awaab Ishak who died in December 2020 (Family handout/PA)
Two-year-old Awaab Ishak who died in December 2020 (Family handout/PA)

The chief executive of the housing body which the ran the home where a two-year-old died has been removed from his post.

Two-year-old Awaab Ishak died in December 2020 from a respiratory condition caused by mould in the one-bedroom housing association flat where he lived with parents, Faisal Abdullah and Aisha Aminin, in Rochdale, Greater Manchester an inquest concluded this week.

Mr Abdullah had previously complained to Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) about the mould, an inquest at Rochdale Coroner’s Court was told.

Gareth Swarbrick had previously apologised following the inquest but refused to step down from his role.

On Saturday, Rochdale Boroughwide Housing board announced the immediate removal of Mr Swarbrick.

In a statement, Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) said: "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."

The board went on to say that it will be making further changes recommended by the coroner.

The statement added: “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.”

A Government source said that the removal of Gareth Swarbrick as chief executive of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing was “welcome”, but the board still had questions to answer.

The source said: “It is welcome that Gareth Swarbrick has been removed for his profound failings as RBH CEO, but RBH and their board still have very serious questions to answer.

“Why did they give him their full backing after the coroner’s report and as recently as 24 hours ago?

“And why have they failed to answer basic questions about the state of their housing stock? The Secretary of State for Levelling Up will continue to take a very close interest in RBH and will stand up for tenants as necessary.”

Senior coroner Joanne Kearsley said Mr Abdullah reported mould developing in the Tweedale Street flat to RBH in 2017 and was told to paint over it, an 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.

A health visitor also contacted RBH to raise the issue in July 2020 and an inspection that month found mould in the kitchen, bathroom and a bedroom cupboard needed treatment.

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

The coroner said the family should have been told to call an ambulance or take him directly to Royal Oldham Hospital if he had further difficulties.

Awaab deteriorated the next day and his parents were advised by the Community Children’s Nursing Team to take him back to the Rochdale Urgent Care Centre.

He went into respiratory arrest and then cardiac arrest while being transferred to Oldham, the inquest heard.

He died after arriving at Oldham.

The coroner said: “Awaab Ishak died as a result of a severe respiratory condition caused due to prolonged exposure to mould in his home environment.

“Action to treat and prevent the mould was not taken. His respiratory condition led to respiratory arrest.