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A woman lay dead in her London flat for almost three years despite neighbors complaining to the council more than 50 times about the smell of “rotten meat”, flies and maggots, before police found a skeleton in the couch.
The skeletal remains of Sheila Seleoane, 61, were found on the sofa in the living room of her one-bedroom apartment in Peckham on Friday.
Shocked police officers also discovered bright pink birthday balloons near her body after breaking down the gate of the third-floor property.
Neighbors first complained about the “horrible smell” to the Peabody housing association in October 2019, and protests continued for more than two years before police finally forced their way in last week.
Residents have told how their concerns repeatedly fell on deaf ears before Covid restrictions left them feeling abandoned. It is also believed that the flat may have been the subject of a break-in last fall, but no action has yet been taken.
Ayesha Smith, a mother of four and a neighbor, said a smell of “rotten chicken” had filled her apartment for more than two years.
She added: “I contacted the housing association at least 50 times to complain. They always said that someone would come out but nothing was ever done.
“Then on Friday the police came with a battering ram and they broke down the door. They said they found a skeleton on the couch.
“It was so scary the way they came in. My son said that he froze. They took some of the stuff off him. His bag and his coat and he left it outside the door and there were pink party balloons that had been tied but all the air had gone out of them.
The caretaker said neighbors throughout the 20-unit block were told there was a problem with the drains when concerns were first raised.
They stated that they were later informed that no one would come out to investigate during the lockdown as it was not an emergency.
Mrs Smith said
Mrs Smith said: ‘We were being misled. It seemed like they just didn’t care. At one point in 2020 they told us that the lady had been removed from the house.
“The smell went away for a period of time, but then it came back. They said she was coming from the drains but she didn’t smell like drains. She smelled like something was rotting.
“Then there was a very loud buzz coming from inside all the flies. There were big and small in the hall that came into your house when you opened the front door.
‘What has happened is horrible. All the tenants denounced it over and over again, but nobody listened to us. Then when the pandemic happened, we were calling constantly throughout the lockdown, but they said no one would come out because it was not an emergency.
She added that she was pregnant at the time, but her smell had left her feeling ‘physically ill’, while her 11-year-old son complained of headaches.
Of Ms. Seleoane, Ms. Smith said: ‘Mostly it was just ‘Hello, how are the kids?’ She was nice. She liked to stay alone for so long that she seemed a bit lonely.
Another neighbor, who lived in the apartment directly below the victim, recounted how she expressed her concern in the summer of 2019 when her apartment became infested with worms and flies.
The woman, who did not want to be named, said: “They started coming in through the window of my house in June or July. It went on for about a month.
“It was hot so I had the window open and they were falling from somewhere. She would come home and find 30 to 50 dead flies a day.
“I first reported my concerns to the housing association in November 2021 when I first noticed the balcony door had been opened in the early hours of the morning. Scaffolding had been set up around the building and he was sure someone had broken in.
‘The housing people said they’d get someone out and check it out, but I didn’t hear anything else. The beating got a lot worse on Friday during the storm, so this time I called the police.
Another neighbour, Lola Johnson, said: “We complained about the smell on the block. We thought it was rats because we’ve had a rat infestation.
“I live two floors below her and the smell was bad for us. She went through the entire building.
“It seems incredible that they leave her like this for more than two years. There was no rent or council tax, but that’s the way it is now. It seems that nobody cares.
She “she was a very calm and charming woman. She was always kind about asking about the children, but she seemed very lonely.
Residents grew increasingly concerned when letters began piling up in the mailbox of the woman, who locals said owed thousands of pounds in rent, and when they saw a forced entry notice for a gas check on the door of the apartment in 2020.
A neighbor, who lived next door to the victim, said she was forced to put a towel under her door to suffocate the smell coming from the apartment within the three-story complex.
“It’s disgusting and I’m shocked,” she said. ‘I didn’t know her very well, but she would sometimes pick up my deliveries for me.
“I returned from a trip abroad in September or October 2019 when I noticed a horrible stench in the building. It was so bad I had to put a towel under the door.
“We repeatedly called the housing association because it was weird: her mailbox was full and I could see from the letters that she hadn’t been paying her rent. I called them again and told them I hadn’t seen this lady in months.
“Police came but they said a lot of people had moved out of London during the pandemic and she might be abroad.”
A short time later, a bicycle was left outside her door and neighbors complained that it had not been removed.
Police finally broke down the door this week to find the deceased woman.
“They broke down the door and she revealed what she had feared all along: that she was dead,” the neighbor added.
“They told me it was basically a skeleton and asked me to confirm her ethnicity.”
A spokesman for the force said: ‘At 7.01pm on Friday 18th February, police were called to a flat in St Mary’s Road, Peckham.
‘Concerns had been raised about the welfare of a woman who lived at the address.
‘Officers attended and forced entry. The body of a 61-year-old woman who was deceased was found inside.
The woman’s death is being treated as unexplained but not suspicious. A file will be prepared for the coroner.
A Peabody spokesperson said: “We are saddened to learn that our resident has passed away. Our dedicated Tenant and Family Support Team conduct regular wellness checks with people who may be vulnerable.
“We made repeated attempts to check on the resident and contacted police to try to establish contact. We are offering support to neighboring residents who will understandably be upset, and our teams are there today.
“We are working closely with the authorities and will investigate all the circumstances and actions taken in this case.”
Sheila Seleoane Quick and Facts
- Neighbours complained of smell coming from Peckham flat in October 2019
- Protestations continued for two years as letters overflowed from her letterbox
- Police finally broke down door and found body of Sheila Seleoane, 61, on Friday
- One neighbour said she had reported the smell of ‘rotting meat’ up to 50 times