Mould could have caused death of Mansfield council tenant, coroner rules

<span>Jane Bennett (right) with a friend.</span><span>Photograph: Supplied</span>
Jane Bennett (right) with a friend.Photograph: Supplied

Exposure to toxic mould could have been a factor in the death of a Mansfield woman who made multiple complaints to her local council about the condition of her home before she died, a coroner has ruled.

“Fun and bubbly” Jane Bennett, 52, died of lung disease on 8 June 2023 during her fourth hospital admission in a month for breathlessness and a cough, which Bennett thought was linked to mould in her home.

In an unusual move, a prevention of future deaths report was issued before the inquest warning that there was a “risk that future deaths could occur unless action is taken” and inspections of council housing in the area were ordered.

The court heard how Bennett had moved into a bungalow after mobility issues made it difficult to access her council flat. Her breathing problems “seemed to begin after she moved into this property”, a report noted.

During Bennett’s final stay, Dr John Hutchinson, a consultant at King’s Mill hospital who treated her for lung disease – a key cause of which can be exposure to mould – wrote a letter to Mansfield district council raising concerns about the impact of mould on her health. However, Bennett’s condition worsened and she died two days later, before the letter could be sent.

The court was told that Bennett had bought two large dehumidifiers in an attempt to control the growing mould in the home and had made more than eight complaints about various issues with damp and mould, including a leaky door, ceiling and radiator, and condensation on the windows inside the house.

A statement from one of Bennett’s close friends, read out in court, said the mould in her home was so bad it “looked like there was a rug on the wall”.

Pictures from the bungalow show large patches of grey mould across the walls, patches on the ceiling and along the skirting boards, and on her wardrobe and drawers.

Isabella O’Neill, who had been friends with Bennett since childhood, told the Guardian: “The smell [of mould] was so strong. You could smell it as soon as you went in the back door. I was in there 10 minutes and I couldn’t breathe.”

After her death, O’Neill went to recover a jacket from the home that Bennett had wanted to be given to a friend. “It was just green with mould, completely green,” she said.

Related: Parents plead for help after girl, one, taken to hospital six times due to mould

Jill Finnesey, the head of housing at Mansfield council, said the local authority had “responded to Jane’s requests” and carried out necessary work in her home.

“In terms of doing everything we can as a landlord, I feel like we have made every attempt to do that quickly,” she told the inquest.

However, Bennett’s family, who were not represented by a solicitor, said they felt more could have been done to help clean the mould from the house.

Elizabeth Didcock, the assistant coroner, said she found no failures in the council’s handling of Bennett’s complaints.

She also said the hospital had provided “appropriate treatment” and there were “no issues of care”.

A conclusion of natural causes would be common in such a case, said Didcock, but as “I simply do not have a cause for the interstitial lung disease” and she could not exclude mould or vaping, she recorded a narrative verdict.

She added that she would be speaking to other coroners about whether it might be possible to order mould tests as standard in cases where someone had died, where mould may be a factor.

“I think there’s potentially more we can do in the future in relation to direct sampling [of mould] and I’ll consider that,” she added.

She extended her condolences to the family.

Speaking about Bennett, who was a mother and grandmother, O’Neill said: “She was the kind of person who would do anything for you, she’d do anything for anyone.”