Housing boss sacked after death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak

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A housing boss who refused to resign over the fallout from the death of a two-year-old child killed by mould has been removed as chief exective with immediate effect. 

An inquest into the death of toddler Awaab Ishak found that the boy died from chonic exposure to mould in his home.

Gareth Swarbrick had released a statement refusing to resign from Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) earlier this week saying that: “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.” 

But now the organisation has now said it was “no long tenable” for him to stay on. 

A statement today (Saturday) from from the Representative Body Chair and Vice Chair, and the Board of RBH today 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.

“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. 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.

“We support the Coroner and Housing Ombudsman’s call for the government’s Decent Homes Standard to be strengthened to include damp and mould. There will be no further statement at this time.”

Earlier this week Rochdale council called for housing stock to be returned to local authority control as the family of a two-year-old boy who died from exposure to mould say they are awaiting action.

An inquest into the death of Awaab Ishak found he died in December 2020 from a respiratory condition caused by mould in the one-bedroom housing association flat where he lived with his parents Faisal Abdullah and Aisha Amin in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.

On Friday, Rochdale Borough Council leader Cllr Neil Emmott, along with the Conservative group leader Cllr John Taylor and cabinet member for housing Cllr Daniel Meredith wrote to Housing Secretary Michael Gove. In the letter, they proposed two measures to “radically transform” the services provided to residents in RBH homes.

They said: “The first is that the housing stock managed by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing is returned to the control of the local authority alongside the required funding.

“The second is that alongside the investigation being carried out by the Housing Ombudsman, in a similar way that commissioners are appointed to failing councils, you direct representatives of that body or the regulator Homes England to take temporary charge of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing until the organisation can regain the trust of its tenants, the council and government.”

The Cllrs highlighted in their correspondence their “surprise” the chief executive of RBH had not resigned. 

The letter further read: “As you may be aware, following your request for the chief executive of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, Gareth Swarbrick, to resign he has refused to do so and now, to our great disappointment and surprise, been given the full backing of his board.”

In a statement released by their lawyers, Awaab’s family said: “Senior coroner Joanne Kearsley said that the tragic death of our beautiful Awaab should be a ‘defining moment’ for the housing sector.

“At present, we see nothing to indicate that the death of our son will, in any way, serve as a defining moment. Accountability must be done and be seen to be done.

“RBH have an opportunity to demonstrate to society at large, their residents and not least us as a family that they understand the gravity of this situation. We await further action from RBH.”

Awaab’s inquest heard that concerns about the mould in the family’s flat had been raised with RBH a number of times, but no action had been taken.

Mr Swarbrick apologised to Awaab’s family on Thursday, but 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.”

Earlier this week, Mr Gove summoned Mr Swarbrick, who earned £170,000 in the year Awaab died, to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Mr Gove said: “Honestly, it beggars belief that this guy is still in office.” The Housing Ombudsman was expediting three investigations into RBH.

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