A pathologist investigating the death of a little boy was not told that levels of deadly cyanide gas were detected in his flooded home, an inquest has been told.
Tragic Zane Gbangbola, seven, was overcome by toxic fumes as he slept during the early hours of February 8, 2014.
His grieving parents believe he was killed by cyanide gas seeping into their house from floodwater coming from a landfill site at the back of their home.
But in bombshell evidence to a coroner, pathologist Safa Al-Sarraj has said he was never told firefighters had detected hydrogen cyanide at the scene.
Instead, Prof Al-Sarraj said he was informed by police that a petrol-powered water pump had been seized at the family’s home next to the Thames in Chertsey, Surrey, leading him to conclude that Zane had died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Police and public health experts latched on to Prof Al-Sarraj’s findings to lay the blame for Zane’s death on fumes from the pump hired by his parents to clear floodwater from their basement.
But Zane’s parents, Kye and Nicole Gbangbola, insist this was impossible because the pump was not in use at the time of the floods. The tragic incident left Mr Gbangbola, 50, a company director, paralysed, which doctors say was caused by hydrogen cyanide gas.
Despite this, Surrey Police pursued a ten-month investigation into the water pump, which was dropped when prosecutors said there was no case to answer.
Leslie Thomas QC, a barrister acting for Zane’s family, said the pump theory had ‘collapsed like a house of cards’ after Prof Al-Sarraj’s evidence to the coroner.
Prof Al-Sarraj, a leading neuropathologist, said he was brought in to examine Zane’s brain after an autopsy by two Home Office pathologists could not establish why he had died.
He said he found evidence of ‘toxicity’ but did not consider cyanide because he was unaware it was a factor in the case.
‘Had I been told [about cyanide], I would have made efforts to investigate in a different way and analyse the data in a different way,’ he said. ‘I was only given this story [about carbon monoxide]. This is how I reached my conclusions.’ Prof Al-Sarraj told the inquest that cyanide and carbon monoxide acted in a similar way on the brain.
The five-week inquest into Zane’s death has been told of a catalogue of bungled investigations and missed opportunities, including the fact that blood samples from Zane’s body and water samples from the home were not analysed until weeks after his death, meaning any traces of cyanide gas would have evaporated.
It is unclear why Prof Al-Sarraj was not told about the cyanide.
He told the coroner he had been instructed to conduct the autopsy by Professor Rupert Risdon, who had performed the first inconclusive post-mortem examination. Prof Risdon said he had ‘assumed’ that Prof Al-Sarraj had been told to look for cyanide poisoning.
Surrey senior coroner Richard Travers has adjourned the case and is due to give his verdict in early September.
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