A two-year-old’s death was caused by prolonged exposure to mould in his home, a coroner has ruled.
Awaab Ishak died as a result of a severe respiratory condition in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, in December 2020.
Speaking at his inquest, coroner Joanne Kearsley said: “There is little doubt that the tragic death of Awaab Ishak should be a defining moment for the housing sector.”
“How in the UK in 2020 does a two-year-old child die as a result of exposure to mould?” she asked.
“This is not simply a Rochdale problem or a social housing problem.”
A surveyor described the conditions at Awaab’s home as “unfit for human habitation”, the inquest heard.
His father, Faisal Abdullah, had previously complained to Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) about the mould in 2017 but was told to paint over it, Rochdale coroner’s court was told.
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.
Speaking outside Rochdale coroner’s court on Tuesday, lawyer Kelly Darlington read a statement on behalf of the family, saying: “We cannot tell you how many health professionals we have cried in front of and Rochdale Boroughwide Housing staff we have pleaded to, expressing our concerns at the conditions ourselves and Awaab had been living in.
“We shouted out as loud as we could. But despite making all those efforts, every night we would be coming back to the same problem.”
They revealed that young Awaab’s coughing fits would often last for two to three days and there were days when he couldn’t leave the house.
They said that they had “no doubt at all” that they were treated “this way because we are not from the country and are less aware of how the systems in the UK work”.
They called on RBH to “stop providing unfair treatment” to refugees and asylum seekers.
The family said a “huge void” was left by Awaab’s death.
The coroner said that the property “had inadequate ventilation and was not equipped for normal day-to-day living activities which led to excess damp and condensation.”
“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.
Awaab was taken to Rochdale urgent care centre on 19 December 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 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 Ms Kearsey said that she would be writing a report for the prevention of future deaths and would also write to the minister for housing and the health secretary.
Gareth Swarbrick, chief executive of RBH, said that he was “truly devastated about Awaab’s death and the things we got wrong”.
“We didn’t recognise the level of risk to a little boy’s health from the mould in the family’s home.
“We allowed a legal disrepair process, widely used in the housing sector, to get in the way of promptly tackling the mould,” he said.
“We 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.”
Mr Swarbrick said that RBH agreed with the coroner that Awaab’s death “will be and should be a defining moment for the housing sector.”
Responding to the family’s accusation that RBH had failed to act because they were asylum seekers from Sudan, Mr Swarbrick said: “As a community-owned organisation, we support the diverse communities of Rochdale. We are proud of the work we do with all our tenants.”
Downing Street said the circumstances which led to Awaab Ishak’s death were “unacceptable”.
A spokesperson said: “Clearly this is a tragic case. The prime minister’s thoughts are with his family at this extremely difficult time. Clearly, the circumstances in which he died are unacceptable and we will no longer stand for unresponsive landlords failing in their response to tenants.”
Press Association contributed to this report
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