Heartbeak, tragedy and the search for answers

Luke Elgar writes about the campaign led by Kye Gbangbola and supported by the Fire Brigades Union, as well as the CWU and other organisations and individuals, calling for a full Panel Inquiry into the tragic death of Kye’s seven-year-old son Zane at their Surrey home in 2014…

The story of seven-year-old Zane Gbangbola is one of heart-breaking tragedy.

Zane was an outgoing, nature-loving and people-loving child who was already showing signs of just how bright he was. Interested in cars, he had become the Bloodhound Project’s science technology, engineering and mathematics youngest ambassador.

It seemed inevitable that little Zane was going to go on to achieve a lot with his life.

His death did not just spark tragedy for his parents but also questions that remain unanswered six years on. A view shared by the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union Matt Wrack, whose members reported detecting hydrogen cyanide in the home where Zane died.

Flooding in January and February 2014 caused widespread damage across the UK, with the River Thames bursting its banks in parts of Berkshire and Surrey.

And in the Surrey town of Chertsey, the Gbangbola family home was no exception. Water flooded the area and the basement of the house.

In the early hours of a February morning, Zane and his father, Kye, were found unconscious – having both suffered cardiac arrest. Kye would be hospitalised and left paralysed from the waist down, but poor little Zane would never recover.

The area was evacuated for several weeks and it has been claimed by a senior politician that experts from Porton Down, one of the world’s premier chemical and biological weapons agencies, were involved. 

It would be over a year before Zane’s parents were allowed to return to their home

Here the story takes a twist. It was determined in the coroner’s report at the conclusion of the inquest in 2016 that Zane had died as a result of being exposed to carbon monoxide from a petrol pump used by his parents to remove water from their flooded home.

But Zane’s parents insisted before the inquest, at the inquest and have continued to insist, that carbon monoxide was not the cause of Zane’s tragic death – nor of Kye’s disablement – and that it was due to the hydrogen cyanide that had been detected by firefighters and that it had originated from a former landfill site behind their home, which had been made into a landscaped lake some years previously.

The conduct of the 2016 inquest was strongly criticised at the time, not only by the parents, but also by senior political figures.

Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham was at that time the Shadow Home Secretary and, according to Mail on Sunday journalist Michael Powell’s contemporary report, Mr Burnham branded the proceedings “seriously flawed,” accused the coroner of failing to call key witnesses and called for an independent review, remarking that ‘justice has not been served in this case’.

Current Labour Party leader Sir Kier Starmer, commenting at that time on the basis of his legal expertise as a former director of public prosecutions, was also cited by Powell; Sir Kier strongly criticising some of the restrictions that were imposed on the inquest, saying: Open justice is a key legal principle in our country. To prohibit Mr and Mrs Gbangbola from using a recording of proceedings which were open to the public is unjustifiable’.

Zane’s parents have continued their Truth About Zane campaign ever since, calling for an independent panel inquiry and demanding answers to the questions that remain unresolved:

Questions like:

Why was hydrogen cyanide detected multiple times?

Why was the house declared unsafe for over a year, when carbon monoxide can be cleared in hours simply through ventilation? 

Why were experts from Porton Down involved?

Why was the previous existence of a landfill site where the lake was, kept secret until it was exposed by BBC News?

And perhaps most concerning:

Did the Ministry of Defence use the former landfill site to dump hazardous chemicals that generated hydrogen cyanide, as an anonymous ‘whistle-blower’ has claimed? 

Our general secretary Dave Ward says: “The CWU is backing the campaign calling for an Independent Panel Inquiry. In doing so, we are joining the FBU and other unions including PCS, Unite, Unison, the NEU and the TUC, the Labour Party and the Green Party.

“An Independent Panel Inquiry will not just provide answers for Zane’s parents, but could highlight the level of risk to people in the UK,” says Dave.

  • To read more about Zane’s story and campaign go to www.TruthAboutZane.com where you can sign his petition to show your support alongside nearly 110,000 others.
Did ‘contaminated’ lake water cause Zane’s tragic death?

This ‘drone’ aerial photograph of a flooded River Thames between Chertsey Bridge (bottom right) and the M3 Motorway (top left) was taken in January 2014 by wildlife photographer Richard Symonds and is reproduced here with his permission. What appears to be a narrow strip of land between two waterways is actually Thames Side, the Gbangbola family’s street. The extent to which the lake behind the houses had burst its banks can be judged by looking at the row of submerged trees.