A landlord reportedly kept taking rent from a tenant when she was dead in her flat for more than two years.
The remains of Sheila Seleoane, 61, were found on the floor of her home in Peckham, London, in February this year. Three neighbours had reported her missing in 2020 and her gas supply had been shut off, but nobody “joined the dots”.
Police discovered her “skeletal state” after receiving a phone call from a neighbour, an inquest into her death heard.
Southwark Coroners Court was told the former medical secretary last paid her rent in August 2019.
She then fell behind on her payments and an application was later submitted for the rent to come out of her benefits.
This application, as reported by Mail Online, was approved in March 2020, with Sheila’s housing association Peabody subsequently receiving monthly rent payments even though no-one had been in contact with her.
Peabody cut off her gas supply when they asked to do a gas check and got no response.
Wells Chomutare, director of neighbourhoods at Peabody, said: “We had the picture, we did not then join the dots in order to paint the picture.
“We are really not expected to force entry unless it’s a very extreme situation.”
Sheila was in the recovery position when police finally discovered her body.
She had to be identified through dental records although officers did not find her death suspicious.
Detectives believe she passed away in August 2019 after looking at best-before dates on food in her fridge and discovering she had not paid that month’s rent to housing association Peabody Trust.
Assistant coroner Dr Julian Morris recorded an open conclusion into Sheila’s death, adding: “Any death is sad, but to lie undetected for all likelihood for over two years is difficult to fathom in 2022.”
The inquest heard by June 2020, three worried neighbours had reported her missing.
Two checks were carried out by police in October 2020, but on both occasions officers felt they didn’t have enough reason to force their way in and left.
After the second check the housing association was mistakenly told by police Sheila had been found “safe and well”, it was said.
Sheila paid her rent manually rather than by direct debit but missed the payment on August 20, 2019, Peabody said.
A post-mortem was not able to find a cause of death as Sheila’s body was too decomposed.
According to a GP report, Sheila had a telephone appointment on August 14, 2019 and said she felt “wheezy and sometimes out of breath”.
An appointment was made for her to come to the GP the next day but she never attended, the court heard.
Giving evidence, Detective Sergeant Scott Fisher said he was called to the flat on February 18, 2022, when police found Sheila’s body.
He said: “In the doorway across the threshold was the remains of what we now know was Sheila Seleoane. I would describe her as lying in the recovery position used in first aid. They were skeletal remains.
“She had on what I imagine once was blue pyjamas and a white top and she was lying with her head towards the door on her right shoulder.”
He told the inquest he did not think Sheila had been injured and the flat did not appear to have been burgled.
He added: “In the bathroom there was soiled clothing which indicated to me poor health or ill health. Further to that there were various medications that an internet search suggested various ailments.
“In my opinion she passed around August 2019. The balcony door was open and the heating was switched off which indicated to me warmer months.
“The prescription medication ended around the summer of 2019. There was a receipt in her bag for a shop from August 2019.
“When looking in the fridge, the shortest shelf life was a dessert which was partially eaten and that’s approximately August 2019.”
Giving evidence, Detective Chief Inspector Amanda Mawhinney admitted Peabody Trust was wrongly told Sheila had been seen safe and well by Met officers in October 2020.
She told the coroner a controller had found an entry from the visit stating: “Yes, gas issue” and assumed the yes was in answer to whether Sheila was safe.
The inquest heard the controller no longer works for the Met Police.
Ash Fox, Chief Operating Officer of Peabody Trust at the time, told the inquest the housing association is implementing recommendations from an independent report.
She said: “There were dots which could have been joined up sooner and things that could have been done to raise the alarm more quickly and pull together that evidence.”
Asked about the impact of Sheila’s death on Peabody Trust, Ms Fox became upset and said: “I think I can say that everyone was devastated. I don’t think anyone comes to work to do a bad job.”
Dr Morris said: “It is impossible for me to reach a conclusion of natural causes because I have no evidence.
“Something went wrong and there was a delay in raising any flags. There was, on the evidence provided, no real communication between the rent, gas and neighbourhood manager teams.
“For someone who had until August 2019 and for over five years been in effect a model tenant, the lack of rent payment, non-communication with all three departments and the necessity to cap off her gas supply did not trigger any increased suspicion that something might be wrong.
“In addition further and subsequent contact from residents failed to be acted upon.
“However, for the avoidance of any doubt I do not consider on the balance that those actions or inactions had any effect on Mrs Seleoane’s clinical status or could have saved her life, because sadly as I have stated I consider on the balance that she was already dead.”