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‘Every day is hell’: Killer mould leaves four year-old girl struggling to breathe

Exclusive: Zainab Hamid, four, was repeatedly hospitalised with breathing problems after mould overran her family flat in Westminster

Nadine White
Race Correspondent
Tuesday 30 May 2023 09:18 BST
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Zainab Hamid was hospitalised after living in squalid conditions
Zainab Hamid was hospitalised after living in squalid conditions (Supplied)

A four-year-old girl hospitalised after living in mould-ridden squalour has escaped her damp and overcrowded London flat following an investigation by The Independent.

Zainab Hamid suffered terrible breathing problems as a result of the black mould covering the walls and ceilings of the one-bedroomed housing association flat she shared with her parents and three siblings.

She has been plagued by multiple throat infections, “continuous mouth breathing” and inadequate sleep over the past year, which ended up with the little girl being hospitalised.

Mr Hamid’s flat was beset by problems with black mould (Supplied)

Despite repeated complaints from her parents and a doctor’s note directly attributing her illness to the mould, Zainab and her family were only told they would be moved into new temporary accommodation when the issue was highlighted by The Independent.

Urgent repairs will be carried out to the property and, once it is free of mould, the family will be able to move back in. The housing association is also now trying to find a larger, permanent home for the family.

The shocking case follows that of tragic toddler Awaab Ishak, two, who died in December 2020 from a respiratory condition caused by mould at his home in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.

Michael Gove described the death of the boy as an “unacceptable tragedy” – insisting there is “no way” a house with damp and mould “can be considered to be a decent home” for a child.

The levelling up secretary has vowed to make sure local authorities and housing associations are “held to account” over unfit homes, amid growing outrage about conditions faces by many renters across the country.

Earlier this month, The Independent revealed how Britain’s squalid housing crisis is hitting Black and Asian families the hardest through a special investigation which revealed that more than 80 per cent of Black and Asian renters have been forced to live in disrepair over the past 12 months.

Zainab, the youngest child, lives with her 53-year-old father Eldsougi Hamid, mother Eiman, 40, and her siblings Elfateh aged 14, Mluk aged 11 and nine-year-old Haneen, who has also been affected by the damp with breathing problems.

The Hamid family lived in a flat in Westminster in central London (Supplied)

Their flat in Westminster, central London, run by Peabody Trust, has been overrun with chronic mould since last September. Mr Hamid, who moved into the flat in 2005, says he flagged the issue multiple times and accused the housing association of failing to take the matter seriously.

Though contractors visited in December and March to conduct a “mould wash”, between complaints from the tenant, the mould has returned each time, worse than the time before.

“I’m feeling angry about this situation and that this is an injustice,” he said. “It’s stressful, depressing – you name it, all of the bad feelings. Every day is like hell for my family and I; there’s mould covering every wall in the property, and we’re piled on top of each other with no room to breathe.

“It’s affecting my marriage and my children are suffering. This situation feels never-ending.”

The tenants say the mould would return after treatment, each time worse than before (Supplied)

The 53-year-old said he was particularly worried about Zainab who sleeps right next to a wall by the window coated with black mould. The child has been taken to A&E at least four times within the past 12 months, the worried father-of-four added.

In a doctor’s letter from last month seen by The Independent, the locum ENT consultant backed the parents’ theory that her suffering was caused by the mould.

“This lovely three-year-old has been snoring and continuously mouth breathing. Parents noticed apnoeic episodes during the night and Zainab gets quite easily tired during the day. She had four throat infections, three requiring antibiotics in the last year.

“Parents report no allergies, but they did notice that there’s mould in their apartment and they are quite worried that this might affect her nasal obstruction which I agree with.”

Mr Hamid said the stress of this housing disrepair had taken a toll on his mental health and his family and that his older children were trying to study in the dreadful conditions.

“Up until last night, my Zainab has been constantly coughing all night and waking up choking,” he said.

Mr Hamid said disrepair inside the property had taken its toll on his family (Supplied)

“My oldest son is going to have his GCSEs next year and I don’t know how he’ll cope; at the moment he does his homework in the kitchen.”

The Independent has seen supporting letters from children’s services and Mr Hamid’s children’s school describing the detrimental impact that overcrowding is having on the family.

Three months ago, he enlisted the services of a pro-bono lawyer fearing that their intervention may be his last resort as a solution to the disrepair and overcrowding.

Westminster council’s own environmental services department served Peabody Trust with a Hazard Awareness Notice in March 2023. The document, seen by The Independent, advises the company to carry out works to remedy the issue.

“Sometimes I feel like a failure, as though I’m not doing right by my family. I can’t afford to buy a nice house and get us out of this situation,” Mr Hamid said.

Levelling up Secretary Michael Gove previously said local authorities and housing associations should be held to account over unfit homes (PA Wire)

Mr Hamid, who was born in Sudan, feels his family’s plight was overlooked because of their ethnicity and claimed his white neighbour’s flat was fixed within weeks of her moving in. Peabody Trust “strongly” refuted any claims of discrimination and said no decisions about services are based on race or ethnicity.

Following enquiries from The Independent, Peabody Housing staff visited Mr Hamid on Friday and apologised.

In a statement, a spokesperson said: “We are very sorry that we have been unable to complete the latest repairs as quickly as both Mr Hamid and we would have liked and agree that a one-bedroom home is highly unsuitable for his family.

“Mr Hamid was adequately housed when he first moved into his home but since then his family has grown and we would like to move them urgently. Unfortunately, there is a chronic lack of family-sized social homes, but we will continue working with him to find a more suitable permanent home.

“We want to do the outstanding work as soon as possible and apologise that due to a shortage of contractors this has not yet happened.”

They added that a “permanent solution is now required”. “We will provide temporary accommodation for the family and store their belongings while the work is ongoing,” they said.

A spokesperson from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “Everyone deserves to live in a home that is decent, safe, and secure.

“The secretary of state expects housing providers to raise the bar on the quality of their homes. Damp and mould must be taken seriously, and tenant safety must always be the first and foremost consideration.

“Awaab’s Law will force social landlords to fix their homes within strict new time limits and help to ensure that these homes are safe. We continue to consider all options to level up the quality of rented homes across the country.”

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