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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Kit Roberts

Awaab Ishak's family break their silence after housing boss sacked over boy's death

The family of two-year-old Awaad Ishak have hit out at Rochdale Boroughwide Housing after former chief Gareth Swarbrick was sacked.

Awaad died after prolonged exposure to mould and damp at his home in Rochdale, which a coroner concluded had contributed to severe respiratory problems.

Calls had grown for Mr Swarbrick to step down after Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, which he was in charge of, failed to respond to pleas put out by Awaad's family about the horrific conditions of their home.

In a statement read out at a vigil for Awaad today, the family said it "speaks volumes" that Mr Swarbrick was eventually forced from his position instead of doing the decent thing and resigning.

They added that Rochdale Boroughwide Housing had "expressed confidence" in Mr Swarbrick's leadership just 48 hours earlier, and that this was "wholly unacceptable".

Awaab Ishak (Sean Hansford | Manchester Evening News)
Awaab Ishak (MEN Media)

His family also expressed their thanks to the public for their support, saying that it had "kept them strong".

Awaab's family gave their statement as politicians began reacting to Mr Swarbrick's sacking.

The leader of Rochdale Council said that it was the "right decision" and that Mr Swarbrick had been "responsible for the whole organisation".

Barrister Christian Weaver read out the statement on behalf of Awaab's family to the crowd which had gathered at the vigil outside Rochdale Council offices.

It read: "Awaab's family had hoped that following the remarks of the coroner at the closing of the inquest into their son's death - namely that this should be a 'defining moment' for the housing sector - that immediate action would be taken by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH).

"The family were deeply saddened that following this inquest, RBH did nothing but express their confidence in their Chief Executive Gareth Swarbrick, despite in the court room, doing everything to indicate that significant changes would be made.

"The fact that RBH's Chief Executive had to be sacked as opposed to resign, for the family speaks volumes.

Mould at Awaab Ishak's home (MEN Media)

"However, they find it wholly unacceptable that the board expressed confidence in him the first place.

"The family still feels that much more needs to be done and a further statement will be released in due course.

"Nonetheless in the meantime, the family would like to thank the public for their support. It has kept them strong at a time when they have felt at their weakest.

"They feel the public support has played a vital role in RBH’s chief executive being sacked.

"The family would now urge you to go online and sign the petition calling for an Awaab's law. Awaab's death must not be in vain.

"They do not want any other family to go through the devastation that they have."

In the year that Awaab died after prolonged exposure to mould, Mr Swarbrick was given a £41,000 pay rise.

He refused to resign despite calls for him to step down saying that the board had given him their "full backing and trust to continue to oversee the improvements and changes needed".

However, the inquest into Awaab's death criticised Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, and in the wake of that the organisation recognised that Mr Swarbrick's position was "no longer tenable".

Inside Awaab's home (MEN Media)

At the inquest, a coroner branded his death a "defining moment" for the housing sector.

The inquest heard that action was not taken to prevent or treat the mould despite repeated pleas from Awaab's family.

In a statement today, the housing organisation 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.

The Awaab Ishak vigil (Sean Hansford | Manchester Evening News)

"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.

"We are committed to sharing what we have learnt about the impact to health of damp, condensation and mould with the social housing sector, and to supporting sector wide changes.

Awaab Ishak died in December 2020 (MEN MEDIA)

"We will work with other agencies local and national and with central government in implementing the wider changes recommended to them by the coroner.

"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."

Rochdale Council leader Neil Emmott told Sky News it was the 'right decision'.

Candles at the vigil (MEN MEDIA)

He said: "He was responsible for the entire organisation, he was handsomely paid for that and I think it's important to recognise that.

"I'm glad that the board of RBH has taken the right decision. It's a strange decision because only 48 hours ago they were backing Mr
Swarbrick to the hilt."

A Government source said that the removal of Mr Swarbrick was "welcome", but the board still had questions to answer.

The Housing Ombudsman has launched an investigation into Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (MEN Media)

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."

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