The inquest into the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak concluded on 15 November 2022, with the Coroner finding Awaab died as a result of a severe respiratory condition due to prolonged exposure to mould in his home environment.
The inquest was heard over seven days at North Manchester Coroner’s Court in front of HM Senior Coroner Ms Joanne Kearsley.
Awaab sadly passed away on 21 December 2020, aged just two years old. He lived at home with his parents in a housing estate in Rochdale, managed by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH). Awaab’s parents had previously made complaints about the black mould present in the kitchen and bathroom and had also made requests for re-housing.
Over the weeks prior to his death, Awaab developed flu-like symptoms and had difficulty breathing. On 19 December 2020, he was taken to Rochdale Urgent Care Centre due to his difficulty breathing and was then transferred to Royal Oldham Hospital, where he was given supporting treatment and then discharged.
Awaab continued with difficulties at home and his breathing became worse, so his parents requested a GP and gave him medication. As his presentation was worsening, he was taken to Rochdale Urgent Care Centre on 21 December 2020, where he was found to be in respiratory failure. He was transferred to Royal Oldham Hospital where upon arrival he was in cardiac arrest and sadly was pronounced dead on the same day.
The Court heard how Awaab’s health visitor sent a letter to RBH in July 2020 supporting a request for the family to move due to damp and mould. She expressed her concern over Awaab living in the flat and highlighted the health issues that the mould could cause him.
The Coroner has found the cause of death was:
1a) Acute airway Oedema with severe granulomatous tracheobronchitis
1b) Environmental Mould Exposure
The inquest heard evidence from a number of experts, medical professionals, and staff at RBH.
Pathologist Dr Philip Lumb who carried out Awaab’s post-mortem told the Court that Awaab’s throat was swollen to a degree that would compromise his breathing. His windpipe and other airways were also swollen and congested. There was evidence of fungus in his blood and lungs, and exposure to fungi was the most plausible explanation for the inflammation.
The inquest also heard from Professor Malcolm Richardson, who is an expert on moulds and fungi and their effect on health. He examined the family’s flat 10 days after Awaab died and found “extensive mould” on the walls and ceilings of the bathroom and kitchen and also found mould in a cupboard in the bedroom. He told the Court that the flat would have been contaminated “for some considerable time”.
Rochdale Council building surveyor, Daniel McVey, inspected the property two days after Awaab’s death and told the Court that it was not fit for human habitation without repairs being carried out. Despite this, Awaab’s parents had to continue living in the flat following Awaab’s death following unsuccessful requests for rehousing, despite Awaab’s mother being pregnant at the time.
Richard Blakeway of the Housing Ombudsman for England told the Court that the law needs to be reinforced to compel landlords to address damp and mould problems, as the issue is not given the same legal standing as gas safety and legionella. He said that some social landlords have an “outdated, ineffective, sometimes dismissive” approach with an overemphasis on blaming the tenant’s lifestyle.