Mold could have caused the death of Mansfield Council tenant, the coroner has ruled

Exposure to toxic mold could have been a factor in the death of a Mansfield woman who had made several complaints to her council about the condition of her home before her death, a coroner has ruled.

“Fun and bubbly” Jane Bennett, 52, died on June 8, 2023, during her fourth hospitalization in a month from lung disease due to shortness of breath and coughing, which Bennett believed was related to mold in her home.

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

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

During Bennett’s final stay, Dr John Hutchinson, a consultant at King’s Mill Hospital who was treating her for a lung disease – a major cause of which may be exposure to mold – wrote to Mansfield District Council expressing his concerns about the impact of mold 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 purchased two large dehumidifiers in an attempt to control growing mold in the home and had made more than eight complaints about various damp and mold issues, including a leaking door, ceiling and radiator, and condensation on the floor. windows in the house.

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

Photos of the bungalow show large patches of gray mold on the walls, stains 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 mold) was so strong. You could smell it as soon as you entered the back door. I was there for ten minutes and couldn’t breathe.”

After her death, O’Neill went to retrieve a jacket from the house that Bennett had intended to give to a friend. “It was just green with mold, completely green,” she said.

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

“In terms of doing everything we can as a landlord, I feel like we’ve done everything we can to do that quickly,” she told the inquest.

However, Bennett’s family, who was not represented by an attorney, said they felt more could have been done to remove the mold from the home.

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

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

A conclusion of natural causes would be common in such a case, Didcock said, but because “I simply don’t have a cause for the interstitial lung disease” and she couldn’t rule out mold or vaping, she entered a narrative judgment.

She added that she would speak to other coroners about whether it would be possible to order standard mold testing in cases where someone has died, where mold could be a factor.

“I think we can potentially do more in the future regarding direct sampling (of fungi) and I will consider that,” she added.

She expressed her condolences to the family.

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