Child's death linked to damp council flat


A two-year-old boy died after living with severe breathing issues at a mouldy social housing flat. Awaab Ishak’s family had been trying to get Rochdale Boroughwide Housing to resolve the damp even before he had been born. Tragically, a post-mortem linked the damp and mould at his home to his death.

I spent the summer speaking to families on the same estate. I discovered that damp and mould was a widespread problem, with families struggling to get rid of it, their children having been rushed to hospital with severe breathing difficulties. We became aware of Awaab's fate in a pre-inquest review at Rochdale Coroners’ Court, where details of the medical cause of his death and the conditions of his home were made public. After the hearing, I spent several weeks on the Freehold estate, knocking on every door at the same block that Awaab lived, plus dozens more. It took a while to get families to speak openly, on the record, about damp and mould at their homes and how it was impacting their lives - but eventually I was told stories from tenants who lived in similar conditions to Awaab’s family. They had also struggled with stubborn damp and mould, with the social landlord telling them to ‘paint over’ the problem. The families we spoke to had tried unsuccessfully to move homes. Some had letters from their GP urging them to find somewhere else to live, but the council told them they were not a priority for a move. Meanwhile, I also spent weeks trying to track down Awaab’s family, and approached senior high-earning executives to hold them to account. We ultimately published the investigation in a number of pieces, plus first person comment. It led to action, as Rochdale’s coroner told Greater Manchester Police to investigate further following our report, while the investigation was widely read with huge page view figures for a report of its kind. A total of 178,200 page views were recorded for the series. The investigation tells a vital story from a community in Greater Manchester, on Rochdale’s social housing estates, which is underrepresented and can struggle to have its voice heard. Many who spoke to the M.E.N. were families who had moved to the UK from other parts of the world, who, like Awaab’s family, faced the added barrier of not having English as a first language. The coverage prompted a huge outpouring of shock and anger from readers and Greater Manchester politicians. Awaab’s death was referenced in a letter sent by Salford’s MPs to a social housing provider in the city about damp and mould, while Rochdale’s MP raised the issue of damp housing leading to death at Liz Truss’ first Prime Minister's Questions. Following publication, more families have come forward to share their experiences on the estate, with further cases of children and adults suffering breathing difficulties while living in mouldy conditions. The M.E.N. has been in dialogue with leading charities and a campaign to change the law is set to follow.