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The home where Awaab Ishak died still has problems with damp and mould more than two years after his “tragic and preventable” death.

A new report into Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH) paints a “disturbing picture” of life on the estate where the toddler died after being exposed to extensive mould in his family’s flat.

RBH has confirmed to Sky News that the flat – which is now home to a new tenant – still contains black mould, although it is not as prevalent as when the Ishak family lived there.

The latest investigation into the tragedy found a culture where staff dismissed residents out of hand, believing they knew better.

RBH employees held “prejudices and lazy assumptions” about asylum seekers and refugees, that left them struggling with inadequate – and sometimes dangerous – housing, according to the Housing Ombudsman.

One staff member said when residents complained about the mould and living conditions, a manager told her because “most of the residents are refugees” they “were lucky to have [a] roof over head”.

Awaab Ishak's home
Image:
Awaab Ishak’s home

‘Disgusting’ attitudes on display

Richard Blakeway, from the Housing Ombudsman, said the attitudes on display were “frankly, disgusting”.

While RBH did conduct an independent review following Awaab’s death, this was done entirely by telephone because of the pandemic. It failed to identify the extensive damp and mould – present in 80% of homes – that a subsequent survey in 2022 found throughout the estate.

Of the 380 properties surveyed, 12 were branded as Category 1 hazards.

Two-year-old Awaab Ishak who died in December 2020.
Image:
Two-year-old Awaab Ishak who died in December 2020.

The ombudsman said it is inevitable there are more residents out there living with “serious mould” and RBH has been given a three-month deadline to make progress on the failures outlined in the report.

Yvonne Arrowsmith, RBH Interim Chief Executive, said the organisation was not going to argue with the contents of the report.

Her predecessor, Gareth Swarbrick, was sacked in the wake of Awaab’s death while RBH was stripped of new funding and downgraded to “non-compliant” by the regulator for failing to act.

“We are really sorry to any residents that have not been treated with respect, that haven’t felt their voice has been heard. Because that’s just not acceptable,” she told Sky News.

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The report, she said, was “painful” and “uncomfortable” to read, but was also fairly “balanced”, with the ombudsman recognising where it was attempting to improve.

RBH has visited 5,000 properties since December to check for problems and is doing a 100% stock condition survey this year.

But Ms Arrowsmith denied the organisation is structurally racist, and said: “It was poor customer service”.

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Is Awaab’s death a defining moment for the housing sector?

Awaab’s family wrongly blamed

When mould issues were first reported by Awaab’s family, RBH focussed entirely on how his parents were using the home.

Previously, the inquest heard evidence from staff that the family had a “lifestyle of boiling food in pans on the stove” and assumptions had been made, on the basis of seeing a bucket, that the family practiced ritual bathing.

This assumption was based entirely on a member of staff’s “previous, irrelevant” interactions with other people in the same block of flats.

Awaab Ishak's home
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Awaab Ishak’s home

Mr Blakeway said the initial response by RBH to Awaab’s death was “inadequate” and “simply wrong”.

“There were misplaced views and derogatory comments about the family and the circumstances in which the family found themselves,” he said.

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‘Significant failings’ at RBH
What is Awaab’s law?

The ombudsman also found RBH lost most of its email data in 2020. This destroyed an audit trail for cases wrongly handled by email in the years previously, including that of Awaab’s family.

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Awaab ‘paid price for corporate neglect’

‘They blamed us for breathing too much’

The dismissive language was not restricted to just Awaab’s family either.

One tenant, who lives in a three-bedroom house managed by RBH, told Sky News most of the rooms are “useless” because of damp and mould.

Richard Kalanyos has a small child around Awaab’s age and first complained to his landlord two years ago about the problem.

“The bed has mould everywhere, the walls, around the window area too,” he said.

Richard Kalanyos
Image:
Richard Kalanyos

“Night or day, there’s always moisture. We heat the rooms a lot, losing money by heating, but it’s just too much.”

He said RBH sent someone to investigate, but they blamed him for having “too many people” in the property.

“They blamed us for breathing too much,” he said.

He continued: “But every day we leave the windows open.

“I was so angry, but what can I do? It was hopeless to try and get help.”

Richard Kalanyos
Image:
Richard Kalanyos’s home is still covered in damp and mould

‘RBH threw out my parent’s ashes’

Residents were often accused of using mould issues to try and get a bigger property, the ombudsman report found.

In one 2021 case, an RBH staff member admitted there was a “small amount of black mould in the property” but blamed it on the people living there.

In an internal email, sent after the inspection, they wrote: “There are three children and two adults living in the two bed home. So, that is the cause of the problem. Their frustration is that they want a bigger home and cant [sic] get one.”

And problems went even beyond RBH’s inability to deal with mould.

Richard Kalanyos

In another instance, a resident was given the wrong end date for her tenancy. RBH realised this but did not contact her to correct it. The woman had partially moved out and when she returned to finish getting her belongings she found the landlord had changed the locks.

They had also thrown away her belongings – including her parent’s ashes.

Mr Blakeway said the ombudsman is seeing “repeated failure” from a number of landlords, but the report should be a wake-up call, both for RBH and the housing sector as a whole.

Housing Secretary Michael Gove said: “This investigation lays bare the appalling failures by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing that led to Awaab Ishak’s tragic death. It is shocking that such inadequate standards and repeated tenant blaming were long-standing issues.

“This is absolutely unacceptable and I will continue to block government funding from RBH for new homes until it can prove each of its residents has a safe and secure home. New leadership at RBH is an important first step, but there is still much more to do.

“Our Social Housing Bill will hold failing landlords to account and in Awaab’s name, we are introducing a law so that hazards like damp and mould will have to be fixed within set time frames.”

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PM ‘appalled’ at Met Police ‘openly Jewish’ exchange – but Sadiq Khan has full confidence in commissioner

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PM 'appalled' at Met Police 'openly Jewish' exchange - but Sadiq Khan has full confidence in commissioner

Sadiq Khan has full confidence in Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley despite him facing calls to quit over the force’s handling of a recent pro-Palestine protest, Sky News understands.

It comes as a government source said Rishi Sunak was “appalled” at the incident – in which an officer was captured on video calling a man “openly Jewish”.

Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho told Sky News that the incident in London was “completely wrong” and that “what happens next” with regard to Sir Mark was a “matter for the Labour London mayor”.

A spokesperson for the London mayor said: “Everybody must feel safe going about in London wherever they please. The way the original incident was dealt with by the Met was concerning and the original response put out by them was insensitive and wrong.

“The Met have an extremely difficult job – particularly so when it comes to operational decisions taken while policing marches.

“But in the end the Met must have the confidence of the communities they serve and it is right that they have apologised for the way the incident was handled and their original public response.”

Read more:
Met Police chief stuck in middle of policing and politics – analysis

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Coutinho: Met has ‘got it wrong’

Sky News understands that Sir Mark does still retain the confidence of Mr Khan, who as mayor has the power to effectively sack the commissioner – but can only do so with the permission of the home secretary, who can also require the mayor to dismiss the head of the Met.

Mr Rowley, who replaced Cressida Dick as Met commissioner in 2022, is facing calls to quit following the officer’s interaction with Gideon Falter, the chief executive of the Campaign Against Antisemitism.

In the video, an officer appears to prevent Mr Falter from crossing the road and tells him: “You are quite openly Jewish. This is a pro-Palestinian march. I am not accusing you of anything, but I am worried about the reaction to your presence.”

Mr Falter, who was wearing a yarmulke and said he was simply walking past after attending synagogue, was then threatened with arrest if he did not leave the area.

He told Sky News that Londoners cannot have confidence in the Met under Sir Mark’s leadership and accused the commissioner of “victim blaming” following the incident, for which he has received two apologies.

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New video of ‘openly Jewish’ row

Mr Falter was joined in his call for Sir Mark to go by former home secretary Suella Braverman, who said there had been “failure after failure by the Met” over the last six months.

In an interview with Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips, Ms Coutinho repeatedly declined to say whether Sir Mark should quit following the incident, but said what happened was “completely wrong”.

“It’s not right that one group of people in society should be told they can’t go around their daily lives because it might be a provocation to someone else,” she said.

“That’s not how equality works in this country.

“So I do think they’ve got it wrong. I think it’s right that they’ve apologised, and ultimately, what happens next is a matter for the Labour London Mayor who has the responsibility to hold the Met to account.”

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On Sunday morning, the Board of Deputies of British Jews said it would meet Sir Mark following “a series of high-profile errors” regarding its policing of pro-Palestinian marches.

“The entirely avoidable mistakes have had a devastating effect on the previously high level of trust held by the UK’s Jewish community in the police”, a statement from the group read.

As well as the Board of Deputies, Sir Mark will meet the Jewish Leadership Council and Community Security Trust (CST) next Thursday. The Campaign Against Antisemitism has told Sky News it is not attending the meeting.

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Met resignation is ‘not the way forward’

Labour’s shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood said the Met had “not covered themselves in glory” over the incident with Mr Falter but that she did not agree with calls for Sir Mark to resign.

“I can understand the strength of feeling and as I say that footage was very concerning, and I can understand where Mr Falter is coming from,” she told Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips.

“But I don’t think that the resignation of the Met’s commissioner is the way forward.”

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Sky News footage reveals new details of exchange between police and antisemitism campaigner called ‘openly Jewish’

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Sky News footage reveals new details of exchange between police and antisemitism campaigner called 'openly Jewish'

A tense, extended stand-off between police and an antisemitism campaigner where he was called “openly Jewish” and threatened with arrest yards from a pro-Palestinian march was caught on film by Sky News.

The footage gives context to the lengthy and fraught exchanges amid an increasingly volatile atmosphere, as the head of the Metropolitan Police faces calls to resign following the incident.

Scotland Yard has already had to apologise twice after a short video clip emerged on social media, where Gideon Falter, chief executive of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, was blocked by an officer close to the protest in the Aldwych area of London on Saturday 13 April.

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Original clip: Jewish man prevented crossing Gaza march

An initial apology by Met assistant commissioner Matt Twist had to be retracted after it suggested the presence of Mr Falter, who was wearing a kippah skull cap, was “provocative”, leading to a rebuke from the Home Office.

In the Sky News footage, the activist insisted he was only trying to cross the road down which the demonstration was passing, but this is disputed by an officer in the new footage, who said Mr Falter had deliberately walked head-on into the crowd and accused him of being “disingenuous” and seeking to “antagonise” the marchers.

Sky News has decided not to identify the officer.

Extended exchange

As emotions continue to run high over the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, the Sky News footage shows a Met police sergeant explaining to Mr Falter that it was a “big demonstration” and barring his way to the march.

When Mr Falter asked if it was because he is Jewish, the officer nods and says “unfortunately”.

The officer said: “Unfortunately, sir you took it upon yourself to go from the pavement right into the middle of a pro-Palestinian march, which is why I asked you to go away.”

He added: “You are looking to try and antagonise this.”

“So I can already see what your mindset is, sir.”

Read more on Sky News:
Sadiq Khan has confidence in Met Police chief
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Taking issue with this, Mr Falter said: “My mindset? My mindset is I am Jewish in London and I can walk where I want.”

The officer then said: “Please don’t be too disingenuous sir.”

Mr Falter said: “I am not being disingenuous, I can walk wherever the hell I want.

“If I want to walk to that pavement that is what I am going to do and you are going to have to arrest me.”

The officer said: “I would rather not do that.”

Mr Falter said: “I want to get out of here, I want to go across there.”

The officer then said: “I tell you what, come with me, let’s get you out of here. If that’s what you want, come on.

“I am going to get you out over here, you are going to have to do the long way – there are so many people.”

Mr Falter said: “Why can’t I just walk where I want to walk?”

The officer said: “Because there is a big demonstration.”

He added: “I will walk you out and then you can go. You can see all the Israeli flags over there, I will walk you over there.”

Mr Falter said: “I don’t walk with the Israeli flags or any flags.”

The officer replied: “I am not asking you to walk with them but that is the route I will take you out.”

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‘Time for Mark Rowley to go’

Asking the officer “to listen to me for a second”, Mr Falter said: “The Metropolitan Police says that these marches are completely safe for Jews, there is no problem whatsoever.

“You are telling me that I cannot walk to the other pavement. That I have to be escorted by you.”

The officer said: “I am telling you that I will help you by escorting you over there and that way you will be completely safe just as we promised, so we are keeping our word.”

Mr Falter said: “I am only safe basically if I have a police escort, is that what you are telling me?”

The officer said: “I am offering it to you sir.

“I have already seen you deliberately leave the pavement and walk against this march. You chose to do that.”

Mr Falter said: “I was trying to get to the other side of the road.”

Amid the ongoing exchange, the noisy march continued in the background with protesters carrying placards and chanting “Palestine will be free.”

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Met resignation is ‘not the way forward’

‘Antagonise’

After several more exchanges, Mr Falter asked if it was because he was Jewish he was being stopped from crossing the road as it would “antagonise” the crowd.

The officer said: “You are quite obviously Jewish in appearance, you are outwardly demonstrating your faith.”

He added: “You decided to walk out into the road… and deliberately walk against the flow of people.

“This is quite clearly a pro-Palestinian demonstration. My concern is that your behaviour changed.

“You were at first on the footway, you were not causing any issues. You then decided to move into the road, not to cross it but walk against the flow of people.”

Mr Falter said: “What are you talking about? I was walking across the road.”

The officer then said: “I am sorry, which word didn’t you understand? You were walking against the flow of people.

“That’s why I asked you to move to the pavement.”

When Mr Falter asked if he would be allowed to cross the road if he removed his kippah, the officer said he would not because he was not confident he would not put it back on.

Someone unidentified can then be heard to say: “You are going round in circles now lads.”

Threat of arrest

The campaigner then spoke to another officer who said if he remained he would be arrested.

He was told his presence was “antagonising” a large group of people “and we can’t deal with all of that if they attack you”.

The officer said: “You deliberately tried to walk through the group.

“I watched what you did, you were walking through them in a straight line.”

Pointing away from the march, the officer added: “When you have a route here that offers you no resistance whatsoever it is an antagonistic action to take.”

Mr Falter restated he would like to cross the road as someone could be heard to shout “baby killers”.

He again moved to the pavement, where protesters had gathered with flags and placards, leading a police officer to put a restraining arm around him.

As well as chants of “Palestine will be free” there were also shouts of “shame on you” and “scum”.

The original police sergeant asked Mr Falter: “Where are you looking to go now? You are still heading the wrong way.”

As the situation appeared to grow even more volatile, the officer repeated his offer to escort Mr Falter away as he continued to remonstrate with police arguing they had failed to deal with protesters “behaving badly”.

Pro-Palestinian protesters, some of them masked, chanted at Mr Falter: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

The chant is viewed by some pro-Israel supporters as a way to call for the eradication of the Israeli state. Some pro-Palestinian supporters reject this, saying it is simply expressing the need for equality for all inhabitants of historic Palestine.

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Police investigating after man and woman in 70s found dead in Stoke-on-Trent

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Police investigating after man and woman in 70s found dead in Stoke-on-Trent

Police are investigating after a man and a woman in their 70s were found dead at a house in Stoke-on-Trent.

Officers were called to a report of two bodies found at a property on Catalina Place, Meir Park, at 1pm on Saturday, Staffordshire Police said.

They were pronounced dead at 2.15pm.

Staffordshire Police said: “An investigation is being carried out to establish the circumstances of the incident.

“At this stage, we are confident there is no wider threat or risk to the community.”

The man and woman have not been publicly named.

Read more from Sky News:
Head of Met Police should resign, says antisemitism campaigner
Three men who died in north London car crash named
Wales to roll back 20mph speed limit on some roads after backlash

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Their family are being supported by specialist officers.

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