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Housing boss finally SACKED after two-year-old Awaab Ishak was killed by mould

The head of the housing trust which catastrophically failed tragic toddler Awaab Ishak and his family has finally been sacked.

Gareth Swarbrick had vowed to stay on as chief executive of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) in spite of intense pressure to quit, after it emerged Awaab, two, died as a result of black mould in his home.

The toddler's parents, Aisha Aminin and Faisal Abdullah, had repeatedly told RBH that their home was dangerous, but their pleas were ignored.

This week a coroner ruled their flat was "unfit for human habitation".

There had been mounting calls for Mr Swarbrick, who earned £170,000 the year Awaab died, to be sacked. Today RBH, at last, admitted his position had become untenable.

Just yesterday, shameless Mr Swarbrick said: "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."

But in a statement today, RBH - which Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove this week told the Commons was guilty of a "terrible dereliction of duty" - said: “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 statement continued: “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."

Awaab died from a respiratory condition in December 2020 after his family repeatedly reported their one-bedroom flat was dangerous.

On Wednesday Mr Gove said it "beggars belief" that the chief executive was still in post.

And Tory MP Chris Clarkson described RBH on Thursday as "modern-day slumlords", saying that the chief executive should face the consequences of failings.

Downing Street this week said the circumstances in which Awaab died are "unacceptable" and the government will "no longer stand for" landlords failing their tenants.

The flat where Awaab's family lived was not fit for human habitation (MEN Media)

A Government source said Mr Swarbrick's sacking was "welcome", but the board still had questions to answer.

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."

This week Coroner Joanne Kearsley ruled: "Awaab Ishak died as a result of a severe respiratory condition caused due to prolonged exposure to mould in his home environment.

"Action to treat and prevent the mould was not taken. His severe respiratory condition led to Awaab going into respiratory arrest."

Awaab suffered prolonged exposure to mould in the housing association flat where he lived with his parents (PA)
A coroner ruled mould in his home led to Awaab's death (MEN Media)

Following Awaab's death, RBH attempted to pass the blame on Awaab's family, Mr Gove told MPs.

He said: "Awaab's father first articulated his concerns in 2017. Others, including health professionals, also raised the alarm. But the landlord failed to take any kind of meaningful action.

"Rochdale Boroughwide Housing's repeated failure to heed Awaab's family's pleas to remove the mould in their damp-ridden property was a terrible dereliction of duty.

"Worse still, the apparent attempts by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing to attribute the existence of mould to the actions of Awaab's parents was beyond insensitive and deeply unprofessional."

In her findings, the coroner described Awaab as "an engaging, lively, endearing two-year-old".

RBH were this week described as 'modern day slum landlords' in Parliament (MEN Media)

She said Mr Abdullah reported mould developing in the Tweedale Street flat to RBH in 2017 and was told to paint over it.

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, the inquest heard.

A health visitor also contacted RBH to raise the issue in July 2020 and an inspection that month found mould in the kitchen, bathroom, and a bedroom cupboard needed treatment.

Labour's Lisa Nandy said: "It's very difficult to come to terms with the fact that in 21st century Britain, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, a family can find their child dying at the age of just two years old through completely, utterly avoidable circumstances that could, would and should have been prevented."

She added: "Today has to mark the start of a real step change in the levels of urgency about improving the conditions of our social housing stock and the rights of people in it."

Ms Nandy said the tragedy should be a "wake-up call" about poor housing standards across the country, stating: "We stood in this house five years ago after Grenfell and said 'never again'. 'Never again' needs to mean something."

"It shouldn't take the death of a two-year-old boy... to get us together and act," she said.

"Our inboxes and constituency surgeries are absolutely overflowing with people who are in this position who have sounded the alarm over and over and over again and simply been rendered invisible by decision makers who don't respond."

She said that there are "no excuses for delay", saying that she was "wholly united" with Mr Gove's pledge to address failings.

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