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Zane Gbangbola's mother tells inquest of 'ticking time bomb' at flood-hit homes

Published 13/06/2016

Nicole Lawler said her child was a 'gift'
Nicole Lawler said her child was a 'gift'

People living near where a schoolboy died after after the outside of his home was engulfed by floodwater which his family believe was contaminated with toxic fumes could be living on a "ticking time bomb", his mother said.

Zane Gbangbola died amid serious flooding in Surrey in early 2014, and his family have since campaigned to find out what happened to him.

Giving evidence on the first day of an inquest into his death Nicole Lawler said it was not until a year after their son died that she and his father Kye Gbangbola were able to move back into their home, following health and safety concerns.

Ms Lawler found Zane not breathing at their home in Thameside, Chertsey, Surrey in the early hours of the morning of February 8 and he was rushed to hospital.

An initial post-mortem examination into Zane's death proved inconclusive. Further tests, which disclosed that his death was as a result of carbon monoxide intoxication, are disputed by his parents.

Ms Lawler and Mr Gbangbola, who was paralysed and is now a paraplegic as a result of the same incident in which his son died, have claimed the floodwater was contaminated with toxic hydrogen cyanide fumes from a nearby lake built on a former landfill site.

Zane's parents and grandfather held hands and Ms Lawler was seen to wipe tears from her eyes as proceedings got under way at Woking Coroner's Court in Surrey.

Zane's parents were advised by Public Health England against returning to their home in the 12 months after Zane's death, Ms Lawler said.

A number of new features were installed in the house by the insurance company, including a gas-proof membrane, cross ventilation and hydrogen cyanide alarms, she added.

The internal walls were rebuilt and replaced with brick, because they had acted "like a flume" allowing gases to travel through them, Ms Lawler said.

She said some locals had become "so frightened" since Zane's death that they had paid up to £70,000 to have gas-proof membranes put in their homes.

Of those who do not have the money to do so Ms Lawler said: "They are living on a ticking time bomb."

Speaking about her last moments with her son Ms Lawler broke down in tears as she told the court: "I was losing my child."

Describing her son she said: "Zane was a gift", adding that he was "generous" and "kind".

She added: "He walked in truth. We are here today to make sure he dies in truth."

In the two weeks before Zane died all three of the family members living in the house had been ill in some form, the inquest heard. Zane was sick on January 27 and had two days off school, followed by a cold, while Mr Gbangbola had to stay in bed the next weekend after becoming ill.

Ms Lawler said she had developed chest pains and had to pull over one morning to be sick while taking Zane to school.

But she said they did not make a link between their illnesses and the floods.

"We had no reason to think the house was poisoning us," she said.

The family had been living in "chaos" after being hit by floods in January and February that year, she said. They had five electrical pumps in use on Friday February 7, in an effort to get water out of the flooded basement.

Earlier in the day Ms Lawler had hired a petrol pump from the nearby Surrey Hire and Sales, in case their electric failed, which she said had had happened to some neighbours.

While she set the pump up to make sure it worked, Ms Lawler said they did not use it to pump the water out as they were satisfied the level was not rising and had only hired it to deal with a forecast of a further 12 inches of rain over the weekend.

Residents in the area were worried about the effects of the flooding, Ms Lawler said. "There was a lot of drama as you can imagine," she said. "You were dealing with lots of personalities."

Some locals who had mobile homes began digging nearby to create a bund flood barrier in an effort to protect their homes, she said.

On Friday February 7, Zane and his mother had been watching the opening of the Winter Olympics when he had nodded off.

Throughout the evening, while Mr Gbangbola worked in another room of the house, Ms Lawler went between checking the water pumps and dozing at the foot of Zane's bed.

It was between 3am and 3.30am that she noticed he had stopped snoring and realised he was not breathing at which point she "immediately" called 999.

Earlier senior Surrey coroner Richard Travers told the inquest, which is expected to last until mid to late July: "It is likely that the fact that Zane died as a result of toxicity will not be in contention.

"The question may well be which toxic substance was responsible."

Mr Travers said the inquest will look at whether it is likely Zane died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning or hydrogen cyanide poisoning.

The inquest was adjourned until Tuesday.

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