Problems persist on development where woman died of carbon monoxide poisoning
‘We feel so unsafe’ say residents of gas danger estate
On February 27 this year Elouise Littlewood died in the place she should have been the safest – her new home.
The popular 26-year-old dance teacher had moved into her newly built flat, a stone’s throw from Heathrow airport, just months previously.
She co-owned the property, built by developer Barratt, with housing association Notting Hill Housing, and it came with a full set of gas safety certificates.
Despite this Ms Littlewood died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Her flatmate, Simon Kilby, remains in a coma in hospital. Put simply, it is a tragedy that should never have happened – but worryingly could happen again elsewhere.
Ms Littlewood’s death prompted Barratt and other developers to check similar gas systems – those with concealed flues, which are difficult to access – on estates across the country.
Their findings were shocking. Based on the developers’ research, the Health & Safety Executive estimated that 1,200 homes were ‘immediately dangerous’ and should have their gas systems shut down without delay.
The safety watchdog issued an alert advising landlords, owners, tenants and developers to check the safety of their homes when they used similar systems – an estimated 60,000 nationwide.
All of which was bad enough. But what has happened on the Bedfont Lakes estate where Ms Littlewood lived, in Wooldridge Close, Hounslow, since her death? Safety checks were carried out on all homes throughout the estate. All systems were replaced and repaired where necessary, and additional inspection panels were created. Carbon monoxide detectors were installed in homes and many residents were put up by Notting Hill in hotels while work was carried out.
Yet last month, when all the checks had been completed, the unthinkable happened. Residents across the estate were again warned to switch off their gas, after a new fault was detected with one resident’s boiler.
When Inside Housing visited the estate residents were nervous and upset about this latest turn of events. They also reported numerous other problems on the estate.
Celia Jones lives with her partner and young child directly above the flat in which Ms Littlewood died. On the night of the tragedy she grabbed her son and ran as soon as she realised what was happening.
‘They said if they hadn’t gone in that night we wouldn’t have woken up in the morning,’ she said.
But Ms Jones said that both before and since Ms Littlewood’s death there had been many other problems on the estate.
Letters to residents from Notting Hill, seen by Inside Housing, confirm this. One, dated May 27 – three months after Ms Littlewood died – refers to a ‘flaw in the design of the door locks as no emergency exit was possible’.
It also talks about two play areas neither of which has been ‘formally handed over by Barratt as there are issues with drainage’.
It adds that the bin stores have ‘unsatisfactory locks’, which Barratt has agreed to replace.
‘You’re not surprised by anything any more,’ Ms Jones added. ‘Every time I turn on a plug I feel I am going to get electrocuted.
’Elisha Bryant, a social housing tenant who lives on the ‘estate, agreed. ‘There have been numerous problems, not just with the heating.’
Ms Bryant said she would leave the estate tomorrow if she could. ‘I have been begging Notting Hill to move me,’ she said. ‘We just feel so unsafe.’
She said it was important for people to realise that the problem could occur in new build housing. ‘That is what we say to everybody – don’t just think it is old properties.
’Stephen Hicks, a shared owner like Ms Littlewood, added that the problems had been ‘shocking originally’.’Then you get another letter saying that it has all gone tits up again – it’s appalling,’ he said.
Edyta Szczepaniak was still waiting to find out ‘whether they are going to make another big mess in my flat.
‘If they were keen on giving me my money back for this property I would just go,’ she said.
Another shared owner, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: ‘I lived without gas from February to July. In July they decided it was safe. [Then] they came again at the beginning of the week. It is unsafe.
’She added that she tried not to think to much about the problems.
‘You are grateful that you are still alive,’ she said.
A spokesperson for Notting Hill said 144 homes had been reinspected by British Gas since the latest problem with the gas flues. Of these, 10 boilers were turned off because they were considered to be ‘at risk’ by engineers. The cause of the flue problems was yet to be identified, although informal conclusions ‘are that mastic used to fill holes where the flues pass through the walls is, in some cases, preventing the flues from expanding and contracting as designed’, the spokesperson said.
She admitted there had been problems with a number of property defects and Barratt was responsible for dealing with them.
A spokesperson for Barratt said it was addressing issues at Bedfont as a matter of urgency and its priority was to ensure the well-being of residents.
Diary of a troubled housing estate
Extracts from Notting Hill Housing’s letters to residents following the death of Elouise Littlewood on 27 February 2008 of carbon monoxide poisoning
‘To reinstate the gas supply to your property it is necessary for all the gas appliances in your property to be inspected by Corgi-qualified engineers.We realise that the past couple of days have been very difficult for all Wooldridge Close residents and thank you for you co-operation.’
‘We’ve completed gas safety checks on approximately 110 homes out of a total of 148 homes that need to be checked at Bedfont Lakes.
‘The Health & Safety Executive is investigating possible causes of the incident at Bedfont Lakes last week. Because of the ongoing HSE investigation, we cannot begin any work needed to put right any faults with gas systems and appliances.
‘If the gas in your property has been reconnected, this means it is safe to use, but we may want to do some additional works at a later stage as a precautionary measure.’
‘Some residents have received a gas safety notice through their letterbox. We believe that this was delivered by the Barratt contractor that conducted the gas checks on your home.
‘I’m sorry that you may not have been given the opportunity to talk to the contractor about what the notice means. We are looking into the matter and hope to soon be able to give you details on the paperwork you have been given.’
As you may be aware, the police identified six flats at Bedfont Lakes that they want to examine further. Their aim is to scope out as much information as possible to support their investigation.’
‘We are working to agree with the developer Barratt the remedial works required to reinstate gas supplies in the properties where gas is currently disconnected.’
‘Barratt have given us their initial proposal about the inspections they intend to do to determine the remedial work required to reconnect gas supplies to all of the homes at Bedfont Lakes. These inspections will identify in detail the type and extent of the remedial work to be done.
‘On Wednesday of next week the first inspections will be done on unsold flats to get the procedure right before we conduct any inspections in your homes.’
‘Starting on Wednesday 26 March British Gas, contracted by Barratt and Calforseadon, who are [Notting Hill Homes] contracted inspectors, will be carrying out assessments on all the unoccupied units. British Gas will then report its findings and recommendations to Barratt. Barratt will compile a proposed remedial works report for NHH. NHH, together with Calfordseadon [a consultancy], will examine the option/s proposes.’
‘After further discussions and consultation it has been decided that you will be given the option to vacate your flat while works are being carried out to it.
‘Following the gas remedial works carried out by Barratt and British Gas to all Notting Hill homes, a resident recently reported a problem with the flue in their home. This issue was immediately attended to and fixed by Barratt and British Gas. Barratt and British Gas have investigated the possible cause of the problem but have not, as yet, isolated the cause.
‘To ensure your safety, we must ask that you stop using your boiler… until we have carried out this further safety inspection.’
‘The whole site is a disaster’
Elouise Littlewood’s aunt Nicola Conlon has a daughter living in the adjacent block to where her niece died. Here, she outlines the ongoing problems on the estate and her concerns following Ms Littlewood’s death.
‘Firstly, the heater in [my daughter’s] bedroom did not work from day one, it was not resolved until the week my niece died and I contacted NottingHill out of utter frustration.
‘Then there was sewage seeping up through the ground in the underground car park. Then it was discovered that neither the bathroom extractor fan or the cooker extractor fan were connected. When they came to correct this problem there was not even a pipe connected to the cooker hood. Now they have discovered an area of black mould in the lounge which apparently is from a leak in the bathroom.
‘The whole site is disaster area, they should knock it all down and start again. People have paid huge sums of money for these sub-standard apartments and will have lost considerable amounts of equity since these events. How much longer are they going to be allowed to keep checking, rechecking and putting things right before someone draws a line under it?
‘I will never be at ease all the while my daughter lives there, and she has to live with the daily reminder of what happened to her cousin as she passes the flat every day.