Rochdale Boroughwide Housing fires CEO over child’s death in mould-infected home

The board said it ‘was no longer tenable’ for Gareth Swarbrick to stay in his position

The board of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) yesterday dismissed chief executive Gareth Swarbrick from his post as the outcry continued over the death of a two-year-old boy who was living in a mould-infected flat.

The tenant and employee co-owned mutual housing society, which runs over 12,000 homes throughout the Rochdale area, said it will appoint an interim CEO. The move reverses a previous decision to stand by Swarbrick, who on Thursday had declared his intention to stay in the role.

“Our original instincts were for Gareth to stay on to see the organisation through this difficult period and to make the necessary changes,” said the board in a statement on the RBH website, “but we all recognise that this is no longer tenable.”

The decision follows a coroner’s inquest into the death in 2020 of Awaab Ishak, which said RBH had failed to deal with the black mould in the home it rented to the family – a problem first reported in 2017.

In its statement, the RBH board 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.”

The barrister representing Awaab’s family, Christian Weaver, read out a statement in response to the decision to a vigil outside Rochdale’s council offices.

It said: “Awaab’s family had hoped that following the remarks of the coroner at the closing of the inquest into their son’s death – namely that this should be a ‘defining moment’ for the housing sector – that immediate action would be taken by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH).

“The family were deeply saddened that following this inquest, RBH did nothing but express their confidence in their chief executive Gareth Swarbrick, despite in the court room doing everything to indicate that significant changes would be made.

“The fact that RBH’s chief executive had to be sacked as opposed to resign, for the family speaks volumes. However, they find it wholly unacceptable that the board expressed confidence in him the first place. The family still feels that much more needs to be done and a further statement will be released in due course.

“Nonetheless in the meantime, the family would like to thank the public for their support. It has kept them strong at a time when they have felt at their weakest. They feel the public support has played a vital role in RBH’s chief executive being sacked.

“The family would now urge you to go online and sign the petition calling for an Awaab’s law. Awaab’s death must not be in vain. They do not want any other family to go through the devastation that they have.”

UK housing minister Michael Gove, who had earlier called for Swarbrick to go, has written to council chiefs and social housing providers across the country calling for improvements to the sector, and for the empowerment of tenants.