A housing boss responsible for the flat where a two-year-old boy died due to mould has refused to resign, claiming that conversations about his position have “begun to overshadow” the tragedy.
Under chief executive Gareth Swarbrick, Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) received multiple complaints about fungi from the parents of Awaab Ishak before he died from a respiratory condition in December 2020.
An inquest ruled that the toddler’s illness was caused by prolonged exposure to mould in the one-bedroom flat where he lived with his mother Aisha Amin and father Faisal Abdhullah in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.
Mr Swarbrick, who earned £170,000 in the year Awaab died, has insisted he will not be standing down as leader of the housing association.
He said in a statement: “I want to start by saying how sorry I am to Awaab’s family for their loss – no apology will ever be enough.
“The conversation around my position has begun to overshadow the most important part of all of this, which is that a family has lost their child.
“Having spoken to the board, I can confirm that I will not be resigning.
“They have given me their full backing and trust to continue to oversee the improvements and changes needed within RBH.”
Mr Swarbrick said he has spoken with Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove to “discuss the issues we face in social housing”, adding that RBH has “made a raft of changes” following Awaab’s death.
He added: “We all have a duty to call out prejudice, wherever we see it.
“Equity is at the heart of what we do as a mutual housing society and we will continue to strive for greater inclusion and equality.
“We agree with the coroner that the tragic death of Awaab will be, and should be, a defining moment for the whole housing sector.”
RBH chair Alison Tumilty apologised to Awaab’s family and acknowledged the housing association had “let them down”, but said she has “full confidence” in Mr Swarbrick’s leadership.
She added: “Together, we will work to restore the trust of the people of Rochdale and demonstrate that we are a mutual landlord that cares, and cares deeply, about our tenants.”
This comes as the Housing Ombudsman Service announced it is speeding up three investigations into RBH and Mr Swarbrick over the complaints made by Awaab’s parents.
Chief of the investigatory service Richard Blakeway said he has been alerted to three “high or medium risk” complaints involving the landlord and has instructed his team “to expedite these investigations”.
Mr Blakeway also wrote to Mr Swarbrick saying he would “welcome a meeting” with him to establish the approach his team will take.
RBH said they had received the letter and would meet with Mr Blakeway or a member of his team “at the earliest opportunity”.