Housing association cut off dead tenant’s gas but her remains were not discovered for TWO YEARS, inquest told

Police found the skeletal remains of Sheila Seleone, 61, in her one-bedroom flat in Peckham in February 2022, but she had probably died there in August 2019.

A housing association cut off the gas of a tenant who had been lying dead in her London flat for 10 months - but her body was not discovered until TWO YEARS later, an inquest heard today.

But she had probably died there in August 2019 - two-and-a-half years earlier, the hearing at Southwark Coroner’s Court was told.

Her housing association Peabody had cut off her gas in June 2020 after she had stopped paying rent - however did not check up on her.

Her remains weren’t discovered until February 18 2022, when officers broke down the door after receiving reports from neighbours who were concerned for her welfare.

A forensic officer (L) & an ambulance (R) parked outside the building. The body of a skeleton has been found in a London flat - after reports of a bad smell for over two YEARS, neighbours said. Credit: SWNS

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Residents had made several reports to the Peabody housing association - raising concerns about a bad smell, mail building up in her letter box and not having seen her for some time.

Ms Seleone had stopped paying her rent on August 20, 2019 and Wells Chomutare, director of neighbourhoods at Peabody, said the company began to receive reports about her welfare from June 2020, the same month they cut off her gas supply.

Southwark Coroner Dr Julian Morris asked: “No rent since August, no response for access for the gas inspection and therefore you cut the gas off at that stage, is that correct?”

Mr Chomutare replied: “Yes, on June 19, 2020.”

Coroner Dr Morris asked again: “Any internal alarm bells ringing at that stage that there might be something amiss?”

Mr Chomutare replied: “At this point I did not think we were able to paint that picture.”

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He added: “She had not been seen for a while, her post was building up and someone said her balcony door was banging as well.

“We know a resident made a report to the police around February 18, 2022 which led to the police discovering her.

“The information at that time, we had the picture but we did not join the dots.

“I think as an organisation we take responsibility and understand how better we can respond to instances.”

A bike parked outside the flat. Credit: SWNS

He also said Peabody failed to communicate between three departments, its neighbourhood management, rent control and gas supply, and therefore could not piece together what was happening.

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Ashling Fox, the deputy chief executive of Peabody, said: “I think it is clear that while procedures were followed successfully, they were followed in a silo.

“The dots could have been joined up sooner and we could have raised the alarm more quickly.”

Ms Fox said Peabody had changed its processes following the discovery of Ms Seleone’s body.

Police had also visited twice in October 2020 after receiving reports from neighbours, but said they did not notice a bad smell and the officers did not feel there was enough evidence at the time to justify a forced entry.

Det Sgt Scott Fisher, who investigated the circumstances of the death, said: “In the doorway across the threshold was the remains lying in the recovery position.

“It was skeletal remains, she was wearing what were once pyjamas and a white top and was lying towards the door on her left shoulder.

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“In the bathroom there was soiled clothing which was an indication to me of ill health and then further to that there were various medications which an internet search suggested various ailments.”

Letters piling up at the property. The body of a skeleton has been found in a London flat - after reports of a bad smell for over two YEARS, neighbours said. Credit: SWNS

The officer said that he did not believe the death to be suspicious because there had been no sign of forced entry into the property except by the police, and the flat was in an immaculate condition except for the area around the body.

He concluded that there had been no robbery or burglary because her jewellery and electrical goods were undisturbed and there was no sign of broken bones or trauma on her body.

The officer said he believed that she had died in August 2019, based on receipts and medicine in her house dated from that time.

A post-mortem examination was unable to establish a cause of death because of the advanced state of decomposition.

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The last person Ms Seleone spoke with was a GP on August 14, 2019 during a telephone consultation where she had been wheezing and coughing.

She had arranged to come in for a face-to-face meeting the following day but never showed.

Two months earlier she had a colonoscopy as she was suffering from inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease.

She had been on Universal Credit and had lived in the flat in Lords Court, Peckham, since 2014, the inquest heard.

When the Met Police reviewed the actions of the officers who attended the flat in October 2020, they found on their internal system that one of the controllers had got confused and incorrectly wrote that Ms Seleone had been seen alive and well.

It also found that the officer who made the first call was only there for eight minutes, and questioned whether that was enough time to make proper enquiries.

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Reviewers also felt the officer on the second visit was too vague in her description and relied more on the previous officer’s reports of no smell rather than her own experience.

Dr Morris could not establish the cause of Ms Seleone’s death and so gave an open conclusion.

He said: “Any death is sad but to lie undetected for over two years is difficult to fathom in 2022.

“The lack of rent payment and non-communication between the three departments and the cut off of the gas supply did not trigger any suspicion that something might be wrong.

“However, I do not consider, on balance, that those actions or inactions had any effect on Ms Seleone’s clinical status or could have saved her life. I consider, on balance, that she was already dead.”