Family of toddler who fell to his death from flat window were ‘extremely neglected’ by Leeds council

This video contains distressing images

ITV News Investigations Correspondent Dan Hewitt talks to the family of Exodus Eyob, who died after falling from a seventh floor council flat window, and they say Leeds County Council is to blame

The family of a toddler who fell to his death from a seventh floor council flat in Leeds have told ITV News they were dismissed and neglected by their landlord, and believe his death could have been prevented.

Speaking for the first time since 22 month-old Exodus Eyob fell from a bedroom window in July last year, his mother and sister say they were forced to find and pay for their own emergency accommodation following his death.

They also said they and no contact from Leeds City Council for seven days.

"We were extremely neglected," said Reem, Exodus' 20-year-old sister.

"They did not offer emergency housing after (Exodus died). We had to stay with a family friend," she said.

"We also had to get my uncle to get us an Airbnb to live in. We had to call them constantly.

"We thought my baby brother has died, so they might change their ways, they might be a bit helpful, they might show some empathy and they might apologise, but they did nothing."

Reem Eyob, Exodus' sister Credit: ITV News

Earlier this month a coroner concluded his death was an accident.

The inquest heard Exodus had briefly snuck into his sisters room while she was in the bathroom and pushed open the window, which was around six inches open with the restrictors disengaged.

His sister says she has still has flashbacks of the day he died.

Speaking to ITV News she said: "We searched every room looking for him, and we then went to my room. 

"We opened the door, and the window was quite wide open. I remember just looking at it. My mum went towards the window and she started screaming. She opened the front door and ran downstairs.

"I saw my mum holding Exodus in her arms. She just kept screaming and screaming."

The family insist Exodus’ death could have been avoided after they say they begged the council for child safety locks to be fitted on windows they claim “opened far too wide” for a high rise building.

Birikti Berihew and Exodus Eyob. Credit: ITV News

Birikti Berihew told ITV News she first requested extra cable window locks to be fitted on the windows in 2014 to prevent them opening more than a few inches.

She says she lived in fear of one of her three children falling out of the windows, as she had heard of another child falling from a nearby tower block.

She was so worried she had asked to be given a smaller flat, closer to the ground floor. 

ITV News visited the block where Exodus died and spoke to the family’s next-door neighbour, who showed us the cable window locks he had fitted on windows throughout his flat owned by Leeds City Council.

Exodus fell from a seventh floor council flat window. Credit: ITV News

Others in the same building had the same locks fitted, but Birikti’s requests were refused.

Reem said: "I went there with my mum so many times.

"After school, from primary school to high school, constantly complaining to them about the window about how wide the window could open, how she didn’t think the restrictors were fit enough, because it was quite easy for us play with. 

"She told them she wanted a permanent cable wire installed so there would be no possible way for me to open it that wide."

The family were shocked to hear at the inquest, Leeds City Council only had record of one request being made for cable wires, despite repeatedly warning of their concerns for years.  

They say they told the council they were afraid the windows posed a danger to Exodus and his five-year-old brother Joel, who has autism.

Birikti Berihew in tears as she talks to ITV News' Dan Hewitt. Credit: ITV News

Joel would often try to play with the custom circular restrictors on either side of the windows. 

The family also feel their ethnicity was a contributing factor. 

Reem said: "My mum would usually bring me into the housing office because she thought maybe it was a language barrier. I would translate on her behalf. 

"The way they would talk to my mum and me was quite different. The way they would talk to my mum was patronising.  The way they would treat my mum was horrible." 

Exodus is not the first child to lose his life from falling from a Leeds City Council flat.

In 2011, just half a mile away from where Exodus died, six-year-old Liam Shackleton fell from the eighth floor window of his grandad's flat.

After Liam’s death, the coroner recommended  “having fixed permanent window restrictors fitted so that the window can only be opened to such a width as to prevent a child accidentally falling through".

Liam Shackleton also died after falling from a window in a Leeds City Council high rise flat. Credit: ITV News

They said: "I accept that this could have repercussions regarding a tenant being able to clean the window on the outside panel, but I consider the safety of a child or vulnerable occupant is of paramount importance and should override this fact.”

Robert Goor, Deputy Head of Property Management at Leeds City Council, told the inquest into Exodus’ death it was not the council’s standard policy to fit cable locks, such as the one requested by Ms Berihew, they were offered to residents as part of a "one-off campaign" following Liam Shackleton’s death. 

The coroner in the Liam Shackleton inquest also recommended regular inspections of council properties to ensure window safety and furniture was not placed under windows to allow children to climb up.

At the inquest into Exodus’ death in December 2023, Leeds City Council provided no evidence to show such inspections took place.

Birikti’s housing officer told the inquest he had received no training to identify such risks.

The room where Exodus fell was also so small that there was no other place to physically place the single bed than under the window.

Lawyer Christian Weaver says Leeds City Council is to blame for Exodus' death. Credit: ITV News

Christian Weaver, is the family’s barrister, she also represented the family of toddler Awaab Ishak who died in a flat in 2020 in Rochdale flat due to mould and damp.

He disagrees with the coroner's conclusion and told ITV News he believes another death is inevitable unless action is taken. 

"Liam Shackleton, twelve years prior, died also from a property owned by Leeds city council," said Mr Weaver.

"Changes were suggested, and recommendations were suggested - not a single one of those applied at the time when Exodus sadly passed away."

"It is the view of the family and the view of the legal team that there will literally be other deaths that take place like this as currently there are windows in high rises that can open far too widely." 

A spokesperson for Leeds City Council said: “First and foremost, our thoughts remain with Exodus’s family. They have suffered a truly awful loss and we offer them our deep and sincere condolences. 

"The coroner who oversaw the inquest into Exodus’s death found that it was a tragic accident, which happened after a bedroom window in his family’s flat was left open with its restrictor safety device disengaged.

"No faults with the window were identified by the coroner, who made a finding of fact that the restrictor was ‘in working order, legally compliant and free from defect’. 

“The coroner also noted that the installation of an extra safety device – such as a window cable wire – would have simply replicated the effects of a properly-used restrictor. Additional locks, he added, ‘are not the answer’ when it comes to window safety. 

“We also strongly refute the claim that race and ethnicity had any bearing on interactions between our housing staff and the family.

"Leeds is a compassionate city, and the council has a people-first ethos that fully embraces values such as equality and diversity. 

“In the days following Exodus’s death, we provided support to help his family find alternative accommodation.

"We are satisfied that this response – which included identifying three options for long-term rehousing, one of which is the property where they now live – met the high standards we expect from ourselves as a council.

 “We continue to work hard to communicate advice on window safety to residents in our high-rise buildings.

"As part of these ongoing efforts, we make full use of graphics and other visuals in our leaflets so the messages are clearly explained to people whose first language is not English. Translation and interpretation services are also available if required. 

“The safety and wellbeing of everyone in Leeds is of paramount importance to the council and its dedicated teams operating across all services, including housing.” 

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