Woman's body lay in Peckham flat for two years despite neighbours contacting housing association

ITV News London reporter Rags Martel speaks to Sheila Seleoane's neighbours after her body was first discovered.

A woman's body lay undiscovered in her south east London flat for two years, despite her rent suddenly stopping and her gas bills going unpaid.

Concerns were raised a number of times about the welfare of the 58-year-old occupant of the Peckham flat.

But her severely decomposed body was not discovered for two-and-a-half years, an inquest heard.

Sheila Seleoane was found by police officers after they forced entry into her third-storey home on 18 February, 2022 and were met with the discovery.

The retired medical secretary’s skeletal remains were found in the “recovery position” wearing blue pyjamas and a white top at her home in The Lords Court.

Due to the dates on prescribed medications found at the property and the expiry date of a half-eaten dessert in the fridge, it was determined that she had died at some point around August 2019.

Despite her body not being found for over two years, a number of concerned neighbours had contacted the Peabody Trust after noticing “a strong smell like a dead body” in the building.

According to My London, a neighbour living below Ms Seleoane had raised concerns to the housing association as early as September 2019 after noticing that maggots and flies were entering her property from the window above.

She phoned Peabody and reported it to the neighbourhood manager, but was told that their pest control “don’t deal with maggots”.In a WhatsApp group chat, residents had voiced their concerns with one individual writing in June 2020 “is she dead”.

Sheila Seloane's body lay undiscovered in her Peckham, south east, London flat for two years. Credit: BPM Media

It had also been reported to Peabody that month, and in April 2021, that Sheila had not been seen and that a number of letters and leaflets were wedged in and around her door.

A strong smell was also reported in October 2020, with a note on the Peabody system reading: reads “Report of strong smell raised by from customer at number 12 saying that their social worker called to report a strong smell like a dead body.”

This had also been noticed by the neighbourhood manager, but was attributed to the smell of damp.

These incidents were followed by a complaint in December 2021 about Ms Seleoane’s balcony door banging in the wind and a concern about her welfare, as she had not been seen in the building and her door mat had not been replaced in its usual position following a visit from the communal cleaners.

On several occasions over the two-and-a-half year period, the neighbourhood manager had left voicemails for Ms Seleoane and on one occasion had visited the flat but had received no response.

Despite being described as a “model tenant” whilst she was alive and residing at The Lords Court, her missed rent payments and her lack of response to annual gas check inspections failed to ring any alarm bells.

In April 2020, she was eight months in arrears’ in rent, and owed the landlord a total of £3,431.10. It was noted that the payments from thereon out would be taken from her Universal Credit account, and her gas supply was capped in June 2020 after an engineer visited in April to conduct a Gas Safety Inspection but failed to gain access to the property.

When questioned during the inquest on why this unusual lack of response from Ms Seleoane had not been questioned or discussed, Peabody employee Wells Choumtare said: “It’s fair to say with the information that we had, we had the picture but we did not join the dots.”

Letters piling up in the letterbox outside the flat in Peckham Credit: BPM Media

Police officers were called to visit Ms Seleoane on two occasions in October 2020 but failed to notice anything suspicious and did not believe there was enough reason to force entry into the property.

The inquest heard that there had been “confusion” on the second visit by the operator reading the police computer system as to whether the officer had seen and spoken to Sheila.It was then reported to the Peabody Trust that she had been spoken to by an officer and was “safe and well”, therefore the case was closed.

Speaking of this mistake, Detective Chief Inspector Amanda Mawhinney told the inquest that the tapes had been referred to the borough commander and a number of recommendations had been made to the procedure following a review.

Her body was eventually discovered after the neighbour in the flat below contacted the police.

She had noticed the balcony door was banging once again in the wind, and upon checking Ms Seleoane’s mailbox, noticed that there were several letters that were unopened.

Police received the neighbour's call at 7.01pm and decided to force entry, before discovering Ms Seleoane in her living room.Due to the advanced state of decomposition, a post-mortem could not produce a full examination and her medical cause of death was given as unascertained.

In the months leading up to her death, Ms Seleoane had been suffering from a bout of ill-health, and had been taking medication, the inquest heard.

An independent report was commissioned to examine the role of the Peabody Trust, which has laid out 37 recommendations for improvement.

The deputy chief executive of the housing association, Ashley Fox, also said that whilst individual processes were followed successfully, they were “followed in a silo”.

“There were opportunities where the dots could have been joined sooner,” she said. “We are really really keen to take on the independent report which provides a number of recommendations, 37 in fact, across seven different areas.”These include changes to the process of gas-capping with tenants who had not responded to bills or legal checks, as well as improving training and increasing the number of neighbourhood managers.

Speaking at Southwark Coroner’s Court, Coroner Julian Morris said that Ms Seleoane's death was “difficult to fathom” in 2022, and said: "It is clear from the evidence provided by the trust that 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 management teams."

He continued: "The lack of rent payments, non communication with all three departments and the necessity to cap off her gas supply did not trigger any suspicion that something was wrong.

"However for the avoidance of any doubt, I do not consider on the balance, those actions or inactions had any effect on Ms Seleoane’s clinical status or could have saved her life, as I’ve stated and I’ve said on balance, she was already dead."

Ms Seleoane’s funeral took place at Croydon Crematorium with two mourners present, before her body was flown to South Africa by Peabody for burial at her family plot.

Speaking of the impact her death has had upon the housing association, Ms Fox tearfully said: “I think I can say everyone was devastated, I don't think anyone comes to work to do that job.”

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