Tuesday, 23 Apr 2024

My baby turned blue because the toxic mould in our house is so bad he can’t breathe – but housing association refused to fix it for a year

BABY Jenson lets out cries of pain between gulps of breath, struggling to pull air into his little lungs as he lies on his back.

In the first twelve months of his life, he has been in hospital 26 times, had 15 rounds of antibiotics and, at one point, mum Amanda couldn’t lay him flat because he “turned blue” – and it's all caused by the toxic damp walls in his house.

Jenson, from Brixham, Devon, is the youngest of seven children crammed into the three-bedroom house which is so riddled with “toxic” black mould that only two rooms are habitable.

He has recently been diagnosed with reactive airways disease – a condition doctors believe is either caused or exacerbated by the “toxic” spores from the mould – but Amanda claims her housing association, Sanctuary, have refused to make repairs for over a year.

Shocking videos of the tot struggling for breath will be shown on tonight’s Dispatches: Landlords From Hell, to highlight the plight of families forced to live in substandard accommodation by the very housing associations claiming to help them.

The Channel 4 show also features Luke Blackburn, who claims his 69-year-old father Brian died because the boiler in his Oxfordshire home was left broken for five weeks as temperatures plummeted to minus four.

According to the programme, the conditions of the two houses are not as rare as you might think.

A recent English Housing Study found that 11 percent of housing association homes failed to meet a decent home standard and five per cent have problems with damp.

Dangerous spores, silverfish under the carpet and mattresses riddled with mould

Presenter Datshiane Navanayagam was shocked by the state of the house Amanda shares with husband Steve and their seven boys.

The walls run with water when it rains, silverfish swarm under the downstairs carpets, the kitchen cupboards are rotten and the family’s mattresses have to be wrapped in plastic because of mould.

But worst of all is the thick black mould – Strachybotryus Chartarum – which covers every wall and releases toxic and “dangerous” spores into the house.

The couple say two of the bedrooms are unusable because the kids start “coughing and sneezing” within an hour so the six older boys sleep in one remaining bedroom while Steve, Amanda and Jenson sleep in the living room.

But despite Jenson’s deteriorating health, Amanda claims daily phone calls to Sanctuary in the first six months of his life were ignored.

“At the hospital they said that the housing conditions will be having an impact on him,” she said.

“The damp, the mould spores, breathing those in continuously will have an adverse effect on his health.

“In March we couldn’t lay him flat because he literally couldn’t breathe. He became very distressed and started turning blue.

“When Jenson breathes quite often he has what’s called a tracheal tug, and his neck sucks in.

“By eight months old they did a full bronchoscopy on him under general anaesthetic and it showed no structural abnormality in his airway at all. Then we knew that it was something environmental that had caused his problem.”

'I wouldn't put livestock in that house'

After months of asking the landlord to fix the issue they called Environmental Health inspectors, who categorised Amanda and Steve’s home as having the most serious level of health risk caused by damp and mould – but still Sanctuary refused to fix the problem.

“We had evidence from Environmental Health, our own suveyor, GP, hospital letters, all saying that it was severely impacting health,” said Amanda. “It was a really strange situation to be in because they would not accept what all the other external agencies were saying.”

Shockingly, internal emails obtained by Dispatches proved that the company knew how the mould was “extremely dangerous to humans” and that “disturbing the spores could lead to very serious repercussions”.

But the same email suggested “if we delay long enough they may end up moving out.”

Local councillor Richard Haddock tried to step in but admits that, as housing associations are not regulated by the government, there was nothing he could do.

He said: “In Torbay, we’ve got over 2,500 Sanctuary houses. Some of the properties I’ve been in and seen, I’m a farmer, I wouldn’t put livestock in them.

“Amanda and Steve’s case is probably one of the worst I’ve had.

“As councillors and local authorities, we have no real power to take any action against housing associations. If you were a private landlord, we have the law on our side as local authorities to take legal action. This is the big headache we have – what power do we have? Zero.”

Amanda and Steve did eventually get a reaction from Sanctuary, who moved them out for four weeks while they dealt with the damp problem.

However, Steve claims that while the mould was removed, no structural repairs were made and the walls still ran with water, meaning the mould was beginning to return as soon as they moved back.

Although as a charity Sanctuary is a non-profit organisation, Dispatches found that Sanctuary Housing, which manages around 85,000 homes, had a financial surplus of £139m in 2018.

Last year the Chief Executive was paid £365,000 plus benefits and the Chief Financial Officer £240,000.

'He's warmer in the morgue that he was at home'

Luke Blackburn lived with father Brian in a Sanctuary home in Bister, Oxfordshire, and believes a broken boiler contributed to his dad’s death.

At the start of winter, a Sanctuary engineer declared the boiler unsafe and disconnected it.

The company gave him four electric fan heaters, but, as they cost much more to run, Brian hardly used them.

After five weeks without central heating Brian, who suffered from chronic bronchitis, developed a severe lung infection.

Doctors told Luke that his dad could not go back to a house with no central heating and would have to stay in hospital until it was fixed. But three days later Brian died from Bronchopneumonia.

Interviewed a week after losing his dad, Luke said: “It was a massive shock. The one time he needed Sanctuary to look out for him and protect him, they failed to do so.”

He added: “I do hold Sanctuary fully responsible. He’s probably warmer in the morgue than he is here.”

“I strongly do believe that if they would have fixed the heating and the boiler as quick as they should have done, he would still be here.”

However Sanctuary Housing, who refused interview requests, slammed the investigation saying they were misrepresented.

A statement read: “We do not believe this programme is an accurate reflection of the cases in question nor that of our wider services.

“We care deeply about our residents and the homes they and their families live in.

“We acknowledge we don’t always get things right and if we have fallen short, we work with our residents to make sure we understand why and how we can improve.”

Dispatches: Landlords From Hell airs at 8pm tonight on Channel 4

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