Probe into flats where boy, 2, died and children ‘struggle to breathe’ launched

A probe has been launched into a housing estate plagued with “mould” where parents claim their children have been hospitalised and left “struggling to breathe”.

The Freehold estate in Rochdale, Manchester, was once home to Manchester United defender, Axel Tuanzebe.

But earlier this month, the estate made headlines after a pre-inquest review into the death of two year old, Awaab Ishak died after being exposed to rancid damp and mould in a “sweatbox” flat.

His family had complained to Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) over the state of their upstairs flat for years – even before he was born.

During the hearing, it was noted that the tot’s cause of death, acute airway oedema and severe granulosis bronchitis was linked to the environment he was living in.

Now RBH bosses have agreed to conduct a full check of the 376 homes on the estate, after a Manchester Evening News investigation revealed three more families alleged their children have been hospitalised with breathing problems between 2014 and 2020.

Vilma Lavres and Amanyllo Alfonso live at Ilminster, near where Awaab Ishak lived, and have just spent £50 on anti-mould paint for their latest attempt to sort the problem out.

The couple’s youngest child, two-year-old Gabriel, had to stay in hospital for a week when he was just four months old.

His parents shared harrowing footage of him struggling to breathe before he was rushed to hospital, where he was treated for bronchiolitis.

Vilma says her daughter, eight-year-old Laura, also struggled with her breathing for a time when she was younger and was given a course of antibiotics.

“I clean and paint, clean and paint, all the time,” she said.

“They said ‘there’s nothing we can do’. They say ‘keep your windows open’. When I got back [from the hospital with Gabriel] I was sleeping in the living room because the bedroom was too bad.

“I report it so many times. They [RBH] had some offices here, every day I was there, but they closed it. We call and speak on the telephone. Every time when they come they paint it, but [the mould] is back again.”

At its worst, she says the kitchen wall “was black” with mould, while bedrooms would “smell” with water “coming down the wall to the floor”.

In response to Vilma and Amanyllo’s case, an RBH spokesperson said: “We carried out mould treatment works in this three-bedroom home in November 2020 and installed a Positive Input Ventilation unit in Jan 2021. We have carried out a number of repairs to the home including a central heating boiler repair in February 2022, as the one repair the family have raised with us in the last 12 months.

“We have not received any further reports of damp and mould at this home since the work carried out in January 2021. We have reached out to Vilma and Amanyllo in order to gain access to the home urgently to carry out a new inspection and to see how we can support the family and their housing need.”

Awaab Ishak’s family had lived next door to the Alfonso’s until the tragic death of their son led them to leave the area.

The pre-inquest review heard how Awaab’s father, Faisal Abdullah had made a series of complaints to Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) about damp at their home – dating back to before the tot was born.

Mr Abdullah, had moved to the property in 2016 and was joined by his wife two years later, before she became pregnant with Awaab.

He was born prematurely, and in his short life, he was a frequent visitor to the GP and the hospital, and treated by a consultant neonatologist for several respiratory tract infections.

The M.E.N approached 36 properties and spoke to six residents who were complaining of similar issues within their home.

RBH claimed it had completed mould treatment works in the Alfonso’s home in November 2020 and completed further works in January 2021 and February 2022.

It added it had not received any further complaints of mould or damp from the tenants since.

But following the probe, the company’s CEO promised to do a full inspection of the estate.

Gareth Swarbrick, chief executive at RBH, said: “We are saddened to hear about the issues raised by residents in this piece.

“We have made direct contact with all the residents to look at how we can support them and to ensure their homes are at the standard we would wish to see.

“We have established a dedicated, specialist team who have started to visit every home in this neighbourhood to check the current condition of all of the 376 homes.

“We expect this to be completed by early September.

“Any issues relating to damp and mould will be dealt with as a priority.

“Actions could include installation of Positive Input Ventilation units and humidity sensors as well as three stage anti-mould treatments.

In its response, RBH also highlighted that since it took over the council’s homes in 2012, it has invested over £175 million in more than 12,000 properties.

The investments have included new double-glazed windows and front and back doors, new kitchens and bathrooms, re-roofing and pointing, upgraded central heating, electrical rewires and making adaptations for people with disabilities.

The housing association also says it is focused on ‘creating homes for growing families’ under its new build programme, as part of plans to improve the ‘quality and mix of affordable homes’ in Rochdale.

RBH has either completed or is on currently on site for 450 new homes across the borough.