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Share via Email This article is over 5 years old The first thing Kia Stone did when she got back to the flat was dismantle the cot in which her month-old baby daughter Telan had been found dead the week before. Above the cot in the crowded bedroom where Kia, her partner Simon and their two children had slept, a large mushroom continues to grow out of the damp plaster.

The wallpaper is a violent shade of bright green, edged with black lines of damp. Wet with condensation, it hangs limply from the wall. Kia, 24, does not know how Telan died. Neither do the doctors. Kia wonders if the damp in her single-bedroom flat on the Chapelfields housing estate in York was a contributory factor in the death of her baby girl.

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The autopsy report found no cause of death. But experts say that damp and overcrowding is a risk factor in cot death. Just days after Telan's death, on 6 October, three health officials — a doctor, a health visitor and a paediatric nurse — wrote to York council warning of the increased risk of cot death to another child, Isla Jackson, who was born prematurely and spent six weeks in a special baby care unit, and was then living with a family of five in a damp, two-bedroom flat.

The letter from the health visitor Russell Dowson reads: Gordon's film starts with a laughing Telan being gently bounced on the bed by her mother. Telan died 10 days after filming finished.

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  • The Guardian showed the film to Prof Richard Jenkins, one of Britain's foremost experts on cot deaths. It was originally intended to be temporary accommodation.

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  • The family ran into trouble two years ago when Simon's epilepsy meant he had to give up his job as a chef at a fish and chip restaurant at the Novotel hotel in York.

    Buying that house was way out of our league.

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    But it was perfect. I would have stayed there for the rest of my life, just built a little extension on to it, but we couldn't keep it," says Kia. The flat they moved into on a temporary basis was then permanently assigned to them by the council. I can't count the number of times I phoned the council about the damp.

    They came and washed the black mould off — it just came back," says Kia. By the time of Telan's death they had switched off the heating in the flat in a bid to control the damp. Steve Waddington, York council's assistant director of housing and community safety, said: At this very sad time and alongside other professionals we are supporting the family while they wait for a home that better suits their needs.

    Nationally, the number of people waiting for council accommodation is close to 2 million, and when the government caps housing benefit payments to private landlords next April, the housing charity Shelter expects that number to soar. York council said the growth in demand was due to the high cost of property in the city, making accommodation within the housing benefit cap hard to come by.

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    The Labour-run council said more than 4, people were now on its waiting list for homes but supply was limited. Tracey Simpson-Laing, the council's cabinet member for health, housing and adult social services, said she expected the problem to worsen.

    Roger Harding, head of policy, research and public affairs, said: Overcrowding is one of the hidden symptoms of our housing crisis. Behind closed doors, hundreds of thousands of children are suffering in cramped conditions that are doing lasting damage to their education and wellbeing.

    It's becoming a big problem that councils must take more seriously. Insulation and ventilation can't cope with the extra demand. A social worker is in the front room offering counselling to the grandparents. I can't stand the damp and the wet.

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