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‘No one should go through this’

Elouise Littlewood was just 26 when she died of carbon monoxide poisoning in her new build home. Martin Hilditch talks to her parents about her death and the legacy they hope it will leave

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Eighteen months ago Alan and Sally-Anne Littlewood’s world collapsed around them.

At 3pm on 27 February last year, Mrs Littlewood received a call to say that her daughter Elouise had failed to turn up for work.

The absence, without a word of explanation, was completely out of character for the 26-year-old, who was employed by Hawk Training as a tutor/assessor for children’s care, learning and development.

Her mother was so worried that she left work and dashed to Elouise’s flat in Wooldridge Close on the nearby Bedfont Lakes estate, near Hounslow. She became even more concerned when she spotted her daughter’s car outside the flat but got no answer after knocking on the door.

By now she had called her husband, who left his workplace and arrived at the flat soon after. They were then joined by the brother of Elouise’s lodger, Simon Kilby, who said Simon had not been seen by his colleagues all day - again without calling in sick. The families decided to phone the police.

When officers arrived the families gave them permission to kick open the front door. ‘They realised straight away that the chain and locks were on from the inside,’ Mr Littlewood says. ‘That’s when they sent me away.’

Mrs Littlewood simply states: ‘That was the beginning of the nightmare.’

The police made an horrific discovery. Elouise’s body was lying just outside the bathroom. Her unconscious lodger was discovered in the front room. Both had fallen victim to carbon monoxide poisoning which had leaked from the flat’s faulty boiler system. Elouise was dead. Mr Kilby survived the gas leak but remains in a coma to this day.

Neither of them would have had any reason to doubt their safety. The flat, which Elouise co-owned with housing association Notting Hill, was newly built. She had moved in just months previously and the flat had a full set of gas safety certificates.

‘I think what shocked people with this is that it was a new build,’ Mrs Littlewood says. ‘It was meant to be shiny, new and perfect.’

The aftermath

A manslaughter investigation has been launched by the police, which is ongoing. While Inside Housing makes no attempt to predict the outcome, there are still important questions to answer. Can housing providers learn from Elouise’s death and act to limit the possibility of other families going through the same pain? It is because we think the answer is ‘yes’ that Inside Housing launched its Safe as Houses campaign - which has received the Littlewoods’ backing.

The campaign seeks to change part J of the building regulations to require builders to hardwire carbon monoxide detectors into new homes with gas appliances. The reason behind the campaign is simple - to protect lives such as Elouise’s.

‘You ask anyone about Elouise and they will remember her bubbly personality and her laugh and her smile,’ Mrs Littlewood states. We are sitting in the family home in Feltham, where Elouise grew up. A large framed photo of her dominates the room.

‘She was a huge music fan,’ Mrs Littlewood adds. ‘The pair [Elouise and younger brother Matthew] used to go off to the Reading Festival together. She was the mother hen.’

Music and dance were certainly dominant features of Elouise’s life. From the age of seven she attended the Jean Inwards School of Dance, in Hanworth, Middlesex. She remained at the school as a dancer and teacher up until her death. Even when she left to study Dance and Culture at Surrey University in Guildford, the 25-mile distance proved too much and she left after a year-and-a-half. ‘She came home without the debt, she said,’ Mr Littlewood says. ‘She missed dancing really.’

When she moved into her new flat in Hounslow Elouise’s life was a whirlwind of activity. On top of the day job with Hawk Training she was dancing or teaching dance several evenings a week and at weekends. She was also doing an Open University degree in childcare, her other big passion.

Warning signs

It was because of her hectic lifestyle that no one thought anything of it when she started to complain of headaches and tiredness shortly after moving into her new flat.

‘We sent her to the optician because she had these headaches,’ Mrs Littlewood says.

‘The tiredness was just put down to her working and the dancing in the evenings,’ Mr Littlewood adds. ‘We said “Elouise, you are doing too much”. Of course, we didn’t put anything down to the flat.’

The Littlewoods have been campaigning to raise awareness of carbon monoxide since Elouise died. They want better training for doctors on the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and for carbon monoxide alarms to receive the same high profile as smoke detectors.

‘Unfortunately, if you go to the doctor most of the symptoms are similar to the common cold,’ Mrs Littlewood says. ‘The doctor will probably say to go home, close the windows and curl up on the sofa - and that is the worst thing you can do.’

Ongoing grief

The Littlewoods also have the spectre of a possible court case, if anyone is ever charged in connection with the death, and an inquest looming over them - 18 months after the tragedy.Some days, they both confess, it all gets too much.

‘I get quite angry because events that are hopefully coming up, like a court case, take over and she gets lost somehow,’ Mrs Littlewood states. ‘I feel like screaming and saying: “It’s about my daughter, you know”.’

In a quieter voice she asks: ‘Where are we going to get the strength to do this?’

The day after we meet is a day that will bring both pleasure and pain for the family - the wedding of Elouise’s ‘inseperable’ best friend Clare. It’s an event at which her absence will be all the more pronounced and one which they admit will be ‘difficult’ for them.

The conversation then brings another reminder of the huge impact that Elouise’s death has had on her friends as well as her family. The Littlewoods state that Clare’s sister moved into another property on the Bedfont Lakes estate the week before Elouise died.

‘Clare has never, ever visited her [sister’s home] because she just can’t go,’ Mr Littlewood states.

‘They don’t know how many lives they have ruined, really,’ Mrs Littlewood adds. She says she and her husband are both now ‘changed people - less caring really’.

‘It has changed me and not for the better at the moment,’ she says.

Mr Littlewood adds: ‘Other people’s problems become very petty, don’t they?’

The Littlewoods try to hold on to Elouise’s spirit and passion for life to keep them going. Mrs Littlewood has worn one of her daughter’s rings ever since they were allowed into the flat following her death. She has also just had a small tattoo of a butterfly and Elouise’s nickname Weeze inscribed on her wrist. ‘We both went to counselling when it happened,’ Mr Littlewood adds. ‘They would say “what would she have done and what would she be telling you to do?” It is where we get the fight from really.’

Thinking about the possibility of a court case to come Mrs Littlewood pauses and adds: ‘She would say “go get them, mum, don’t let anyone else go through this”.’

For more information, or to support Inside Housing’s campaign, see our Safe as Houses page

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