Rochdale Boroughwide Housing sack chief executive
The chief executive of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) has been sacked from his post following a coroner’s inquest found that a mouldy home contributed to the death of a two-year-old boy.
Days after a defiant statement confirming that he will not resign despite the growing pressure from ministers and MPs, Gareth Swarbrick was fired on Saturday by the RBH board.
“The board has taken the decision to remove Gareth Swarbrick from his post as chief executive of RBH with immediate effect,” a statement on the RBH website read. “We will now work to appoint an external interim chief executive.”
Two-year-old Awaab Ishak died as a result of a severe respiratory condition in December 2020.
Rochdale Coroner’s Court heard Awaab’s father Faisal Abdullah reported mould developing in the one-bedroom flat to RBH in 2017 and was told to paint over it.
The following year, Awaab was born prematurely at 31 weeks, but there had been no concerns from any health professionals about his development.
In June 2020, Mr Abdullah instructed solicitors and initiated a claim over the recurring mould issue, but policy meant any repairs would not be done until an agreement had been reached.
The court heard Awaab was taken to Rochdale Urgent Care Centre on 19 December that year suffering shortness of breath and transferred to Royal Oldham Hospital before being discharged.
He deteriorated the next day and his parents were advised by the community children’s nursing team to take him back to the urgent care centre.
He then went into respiratory arrest and cardiac arrest while being transferred to hospital and died after arriving there.
Last week, Manchester North senior coroner Joanne Kearsley ruled that prolonged exposure to mould in the home caused the death of Awaab Ishak.
In a statement issued on Thursday 17th November, Mr Swarbrick said he was sorry for the Awaab family’s loss, but that he would be staying in his post.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Two days later it transpired that RBH decided to act.
The landlord 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.”
Responding to Mr Swarbrick’s dismissal, Awaab’s family lawyer, Christian Weaver, said: “The family were deeply saddened that following this inquest, RBH did nothing but express their confidence in … Gareth Swarbrick, despite in the court room doing everything to indicate that significant changes would be made.”
He said the fact he was sacked and did not resign “speaks volumes”, and said the family found it “wholly unacceptable” that the board had expressed confidence in him even after the coroner’s ruling.
He added: “Much more needs to be done,” and called for the government to create Awaab’s Law “to make sure no other child, or anyone else, dies due to mould in their home”.
RBH added: “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.”