Rochdale housing boss fired after death of Awaab Ishak due to mould exposure | Housing


The boss of the social housing landlord of the mouldy flat that killed Awaab Ishak has been sacked, following days of growing pressure from the two-year-old’s family, ministers and MPs.

Gareth Swarbrick, who on Thursday issued a defiant statement refusing to quit, was fired on Saturday by the board of Rochdale Broughwide Housing.

“The board has taken the decision to remove Gareth Swarbrick from his post as chief executive of RBH with immediate effect,” the landlord said in a statement. “We will now work to appoint an external interim chief executive.”

The sacking came as tenants’ activists prepared to gather for a vigil at 2pm outside the Rochdale borough council offices, where they were planning to demand Swarbrick’s removal and urge a charge of corporate manslaughter to be brought against the landlord.

On Tuesday a coroner found exposure to persistent black mould on the walls of the family’s rented home were a cause of the infant’s death in 2020 and that the landlord had repeatedly failed to fix it, blaming the mould on “family lifestyle”.

Senior coroner Joanne Kearsley said the “engaging, lively, endearing” two-year-old died from prolonged exposure to mould in his family’s flat and his death should be a “defining moment” for the UK’s housing sector.

The bathroom had no window, the fan didn’t work effectively and the window from the kitchen, which had no mechanical ventilation, opened on to a communal hallway. Awaab’s father had been told to “paint over it”, and the family, originally from Sudan, claim they were the victims of racial prejudice.

The ruling sparked a furious response from the government, with Michael Gove, the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, saying “it beggars belief” Swarbrick remained in post.

But Swarbrick, who was paid £157,000 a year, refused to stand down on Thursday and said: “I will not be resigning”. He was given a vote of confidence by Alison Tumilty, chair of the housing association, who said: “We have full confidence in Gareth’s leadership.”

On Friday, the Rochdale MP, Labour’s Tony Lloyd, said Awaab’s death was “preventable and unforgivable” and that the chief executive “clinging to his job is not OK”.

Amid rising anger at Swarbrick’s refusal to take responsibility, Awaab’s parents Faisal Abdullah and Aisha Amin said the landlord, which looks after more than 12,000 homes, failed to grasp “the gravity of the situation”, and said: “Accountability must be done and be seen to be done.”

On Saturday, a statement from the RBH board but also its representative body, which includes tenants, 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.”

A government source welcomed the sacking, saying: “It is welcome that Gareth Swarbrick has been removed for his profound failings as RBH chief executive, 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.”

RBH said: “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.”

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