The landlords of the flat where a ‘forgotten’ medical secretary lay dead for over two years failed to make contact with her despite cutting off her gas for non payment of rent, an inquest heard today.
The skeletal remains of Shelia Seleoane were discovered by police after they forced their way into her third floor flat in Peckham, South London.
The 61-year-old was identified by her dental records with police determining there were no suspicious circumstances to her death – which likely occurred in August 2019.
The body of the spinster was found in February 2022, with some residents of her block of flats managed by Peabody Housing claiming they had repeatedly reported a foul stench coming from her flat.
Today, at an inquest into her death, Southwark Coroner’s Court was told how Ms Seleoane had visited her GP in the months before she died.
Ms Seleoane, who was in medication at the time, complained about being ‘wheezy’ and short of breath.
Meanwhile, Wells Chomutare, director of neighbourhood at the Peabody Housing, told the inquest members of his staff last saw Ms Seleoane in April 2019 when she let them into her third floor flat for a routine gas inspection.
Sheila Seleoane’s (pictured) skeletal remains were discovered in her one-bedroom flat in Peckham, South London, in February
Harriet Harman, Labour MP for Camberwell and Peckham, has demanded a full investigation into why Peabody ignored repeated calls from neighbours who complained of a horrendous smell more than two years ago. Pictured: The Lord’s Court flats where Ms Seleoane’s body was discovered
However the coroner heard that when she failed to pay her rent and allow engineers into her flat her gas supply was cut off.
Former medical secretary Ms Seleoane last paid her monthly rent in August 2019 and attempts by members of Peabody’s rent team failed to her by email and phone.
After she fell into arrears an application was made to have the rent paid directly from her Universal Credit payments.
This was approved and from March 2020 the rent was paid each month to Peabody Housing – even though no one had made any contact with her.
The inquest heard that in June 2020 officials had tried to gain entry to the flat to carry out a routine gas inspection.
When no one responded at the third floor flat, Mr Chomutare said the gas supply was cut off.
He said no further attempt was made to contact Ms Seleoane and he did not have the power to force entry to the flat.
The inquest was told his office had received three reports that expressed concern for Ms Seleoane’s welfare.
Despite promises to sensitively refurbish and re-let the flat in which her body was discovered, residents have reported that Peabody has not taken any action since
Neighbours began complaining to the housing association landlord about a ‘foul smell’ in the building in October 2019
Neighbours say they complained about the smell for more than two years, as well as raising concerns about the number of unopened letters
Neighbours became increasingly concerned when letters began to pile up in the letterbox
One resident complained about mail building up at the flat and another about an open balcony door banging in the wind.
Mr Chomutare said after police visited the flat twice in October 2021 they were told by police that Ms Seleoane was safe and well.
The police attendance was noted in the logs kept by Peabody Trust who later launched an investigation into their handling of the failure to make any contact with their tenant.
The inquest was told that contact with tenants had been affected by the lockdown rules imposed during the pandemic.
Questioned by the coroner Dr Julian Morris about Peabody’s failure to make any contact with their tenant Mr Chomutare said: ‘We did not connect the dots to paint the picture of Ms Seleoane.’
Southwark Coroner’s Court was told that in the months before she died Ms Seleoane had visited her GP and complained about being ‘wheezy’ and short of breath.
The court was told a follow-up appointment was made but Ms Seleoane did not keep the appointment.
She had also visited Lewisham Hospital to undergo an MRI and colonoscopy in the months before her death, according to records read out at the inquest.
The inquest was told Ms Seleoane had no contact with social services and no serious health issues in the months before her death.
Detective Sergeant Scott Fisher, one of the first police officers on the scene, told the inquest he found Ms Seleonae in what he described as the ‘recovery position’ lying on her side.
No one in the block can recall exactly when they last saw her striding purposefully to the bus stop or returning home with shopping. An ambulance is pictured outside the building
He said her body was partially covered with the remains of blue pajamas bottoms and a white top.
Giving evidence remotely he described the flat as being very tidy with no sign of forced entry.
He said there was no visible sign of trauma to the skull or chest area.
The inquest was told that police had called at the flat twice in October 2020 after concerns that she had not been seen for several months.
DS Fisher said the first officer who called at the flat had not noticed ‘a smell of death’ and had no reason to force entry.
A second officer who visited a week later on October 21 also came to the same conclusion and no further action was taken.
Ash Fox, deputy chief executive of Peabody, wiped away tears as she said everyone at the housing group was devastated by the circumstances surrounding the death of Ms Seleoane.
She told the inquest an independent investigation into why Ms Seleoane’s body had been undiscovered for over two years had resulted in 37 recommendations to the way they deal with their tenants.
‘It is clear from the investigation that processes were followed successfully, but perhaps there was an opportunity where the dots could have been joined up sooner and done more to raise the alarm,’ she said.
The housing executive said one of the recommendations was to make contact with all their tenants who have not been spoken to for a year.
Staff would also look for changes in regular behaviour, such as the failure to pay rent.
She said so far only nine people who rent homes from the housing group have not been spoken to while there are 25 others who have recently had their gas supply cut off.
Ms Ash said it was now up to the Peabody to apply the ‘human touch’ as a social landlord.
She wiped away tears as she was asked by the coroner the affect of the death had on staff.
‘Everyone is devastated, she said. ‘ We recognise more could have been done.’
Before delivering his verdict the coroner said the cause of death was unascertained due to the decomposition of the body.
Dr Julian Morris said the cause of death would remain open.