A criminal investigation has been launched into the death of man following a fire in an overcrowded privately owned flat in Shadwell earlier this month.
Mizanur Rahman, a 41-year-old father of two, died after the flat he stayed in Maddocks House, Shadwell, went up in flames. Rahman was rescued by firefighters before passing away from his injuries, including smoke inhalation, on March 9.
A council spokesperson confirmed to ELL that Tower Hamlets Council would carry out a criminal investigation into the blaze, under the Housing Act.
Hussain Ismail, spokesperson for Maddocks House Support Group, said the situation was unlike anything he’s seen in his lifetime. “On the day they pulled out 18, but you’ve got to understand some people are there for a day or two” Ismail told ELL.
He said that Rahman died just 13 days after arriving in the country: “That death was completely preventable by the council and Tower Hamlets Homes”.
Ismail said: “Complete and utter exploitation of really vulnerable people who came here to make a better life for themselves, mainly students”. He continued: “They’re outsiders in this community and they’re taken advantage of”.
He continued: “There was no heating, they couldn’t use the fridge I think, [there were] heaters they couldn’t use”.
Ismail said the group had calculated the landlord of the cramped flat was making at least £10,000 a month from tenants, and that the landlord charged £350 extra a month to use the address for correspondence. He said the landlord and/or her husband would visit the property up to three times a day to cook food and collect rent.
He said the visits may have been a way to keep the residents in line.
He continued: “We’re concerned about the council investigating itself… The blame really, I think, lies with Tower Hamlets Council and Tower Hamlets Homes for not doing anything when people had been complaining for over 2 years, formally and informally, and we have a paper trail”.
“All of us in the community are devastated by what’s happened and that this could be going on right in front of our noses” said Ismail, adding that he felt “shocked” and “ashamed” that the situation had occurred in his area.
Ismail said the Maddocks House Support Group are considering suing the manufacturer of the e-bike battery which they believe to have started the fire. He said: “We’re campaigning for justice for the family and for the survivors”.
He shared with ELL footage and images by survivors from before the fire, showing rooms filled to the brim with mattresses and bunkbeds. He said bedbugs were a common issue.
A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets Council told ELL that 17 people had been taken into emergency accommodation: “Illegal subletting of properties is abhorrent and dangerous because the welfare of tenants is being put in jeopardy for financial gain”. The spokesperson also called Rahman’s passing shocking, and said the thoughts of the council are with his family and friends.
The fire in Shadwell has cast new light on the issue of overcrowding in Tower Hamlets, but it is not the first case of a dangerously cramped apartment in the borough.
In 2020 Thames Magistrates Court ordered Maqbool Khan to pay £30,000 in fines after 33 people were found living at a property he owned. Khan was the freeholder of a Whitechapel property which a council report described as “unclean and significantly overcrowded”, as well as failing fire safety standards.
In 2016 the Local Government Association released a report that said: “[The] top housing priority for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets is reducing severe overcrowding”. This highlights that for Tower Hamlets, overcrowding is an ongoing issue.