Boy, 2, died after being exposed to damp on estate where Manchester United star grew up

A young boy died after being exposed to rancid damp and mould in a “sweatbox” flat on the estate where Manchester United star Axel Tuanzebe grew up, a pre-inquest review has heard.

Awaab Ishak, 2, who lived on the Freehold estate in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, died in December 2020, just over a week after his second birthday.

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

A pre-inquest review heard how Awaab’s death was linked to the conditions he was living in.

But until now, scarcely anyone knew about Awaab’s death outside his family and official circles.

Awaab’s father, Faisal Abdullah, moved to the property in 2016, before his wife followed two years later, Rochdale Coroners’ Court heard in June.

Mr Abdullah attended the hearing and listened to proceedings through an Arabic translator before being ushered away at the end of the hearing.

Throughout that time, the court heard, the family had made frequent complaints about mould at their home in Freehold’s Ilminster block.

A pathologist gave the medical cause of Awaab’s death as acute airway oedema and severe granulosis bronchitis due to environmental lung exposure.

A report carried out by Rochdale Council following his death found ‘category one’ harm, or extreme harm, due to damp and mould.

The family tried to move home and even filed a disrepair claim.

RBH dismissed the damp as “unsightly” at the time – but not a risk to health, the pre-inquest review heard.

A further pre-inquest review into Awaab’s death will take place on August 26, before a full hearing begins in November.

Awaab’s family has instructed a legal firm for the inquest and did not wish to comment at this time.

Other residents on the estate shared stories that suggested the condition of Awaab’s house was not a one-off.

Many tenants asked to remain anonymous, fearing a backlash for speaking out.

Another family on the estate, Jorciney and Adatanilza da Cruz have faced similar issues.

Mariana Embolo, 21, says damp and mould at her home has been “really bad, awful”.

Mariana said: “Since we moved here 10 years ago we have been painting and cleaning. We do whatever we can but it keeps coming back.”

She knows of another resident who has been really struggling with damp and mould in recent weeks.

She says her mum has been making frequent visits to their home to help them deal with the problem.

Neighbours, councillors, community leaders, mosques and shopkeepers were all seemingly unaware of the harrowing story about Awaab or his family.

But their horror that this could happen on a social housing estate in their town was genuine.

Others living the block have aired similar complaints.

One woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said she now has breathing issues as a result of the mould and damp.

RBH said it could take “several visits” to carry out its standard treatment of mould – using an anti-mould spray, followed by anti-condensation coating, possibly with a second layer.

Anacleto and Marlene Cassandra live in the Hartlebury block with their two young daughters, Yasmine and Zoe.

They spoke of their stubborn battles – with the council for a new home, with RBH for repairs, and with the mould itself.

Marlene, whose daughter Yasmine has had asthma since she was less than a year old, said: “It’s not OK when you have a little one and they can’t breathe properly.”

RBH said: “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.”

Ben Clay, organiser at GM Tenants Union, said many of the residents living on the Freehold estate moved to the UK without English as a first language, just as Awaab’s parents had.

He believes this can be a barrier stopping tenants getting the best service they can from social landlords.

Rochdale Council said current demand for social housing in the borough outstrips supply and accepted there are “no immediate solutions” to a wider crisis that also affects other local authorities.

Labour councillor Danny Meredith, portfolio holder for highways and housing on Rochdale Borough Council, previously served on the RBH representative body.

He was removed from the position earlier this year after opposing the company’s plans to knock down four of the town’s Seven Sisters tower blocks.

RBH has pledged to inspect every one of the 376 homes on the Freehold estate, where Tuanzebe grew up after moving to Rochdale from the Democratic Republic of Congo with his parents as a child.

Gareth Swarbrick, chief executive, 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.”