Mould Caused Boy’s Death, Coroner Rules

A coroner has ruled that a two-year-old boy died as a result of a severe respiratory condition which was caused by prolonged exposure to mould in his council flat. The father of the boy, Awaab Ishak, had raised the issue with his local council provider Rochdale Boroughwide Housing on several occasions, but no effective action was taken.

The Rochdale Coroner, Joanne Kearsley, said: “How in the UK in 2020 does a two-year-old child die as a result to exposure to mould?” She added that the case “should be a defining moment for the housing sector” and that it was “Not simply a Rochdale problem or a social housing problem.”

The coroner noted that ventilation in the flat’s bathroom was not effective, there was a lack of ventilation in the kitchen and an overall lack of an effective ventilation system in the property, which she said was a direct contributing factor in the development of the mould. She heard that no action had been taken to treat the mould that caused the condition leading to Awaab going into respiratory arrest in December 2020, and added: “It is acknowledged by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing and I find as a matter of fact that a more proactive response should have been taken to treat the mould.”

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Pathologist Dr Phillip Lumb told the court that the child’s throat was swollen to a degree that would compromise his breathing, that his windpipe and other airways were also swollen and congested, and that there was evidence of fungus in his blood and lungs, and of a severe type of lung inflammation which is very rare in young people. He noted that there was an allergic component to the tightening of the boy’s airways which strongly suggested the severe inflammation was caused by fungi. he gave part of the cause of death as “environmental mould pollution”.

Professor Malcolm Richardson, an expert on moulds and fungi and their effect on health, had examined the family’s flat 10 days after Awaab died, and found extensive mould on the walls and ceilings of the bathroom and kitchen, as well as in a cupboard in the bedroom. He said samples he took showed a significant presence of fungi which can cause an allergic reaction, and when asked to comment on the impact damp and mould have on housing in the UK, especially in social housing and private rented accommodation, he said: “The situation is still very dire. There are numerous examples of bad repair.”


The coroner’s report stated that from July 2020 until December 2020, Awaab continued to have chronic exposure to harmful mould, and the development of his severe respiratory condition which led to him going into respiratory arrest was entirely due to the prolonged exposure he had to mould in his home environment. Awaab had consistently suffered from cold and respiratory issues throughout his life, the inquest heard, and the coroner noted that in September 2020 the community midwife had completed a Special Circumstances form to Children’s Services, highlighting her concerns about the mould and potential impact on Awaab’s health. But the note was not shared with the GP or health visitor, and no action was taken.

The coroner noted that the Sudanese family’s lack of ability in English may have made it difficult for professionals to communicate with the family.

Richard Blakeway, the Housing Ombudsman for England, suggested that the law should be reinforced to compel landlords to address damp and mould problems, as the issue was not given the same legal standing as problems such as gas safety and legionella. He said that in general terms, some social landlords took an approach which was “outdated, ineffective, sometimes dismissive, with an overemphasis on blaming lifestyle and placing responsibility on the resident”. He asked the coroner to consider including a request for the law to be strengthened in her final report.

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