Mouldy home causes eight-year-old’s severe throat infection in the Tiwi Islands, Northern Territory


Girl called ‘the unluckiest in the world’ was forced to battle for her life after living in a police house ‘full of mould’ that caused rotting flesh in her throat and left her with permanent injuries

  • Sienna Santiago was in the ICU for 11 days because of a mould-caused infection
  • Her throat was swollen and full of ‘decaying flesh’ after living in a mouldy house 
  • Sienna’s dad, Stephen Thomson, said the house was provided by the NT Police 
  • He said he filed reports of the mould but was told the home was his responsibility

Doctors called an eight-year-old the ‘unluckiest girl in the world’ after living in a mouldy home gave her an infection so severe her throat was full of ‘decaying flesh’.

Sienna Santiago first got sick on March 20, 2019, after her family moved into a Northern Territory Police house in 2017 on the Tiwi Islands for her dad’s work.

Sienna’s dad, Stephen Thomson, said just three days after complaining of sickness the little girl was rushed to hospital and underwent life-saving surgery that saw her stuck in the ICU for 11 days.

‘The epiglottis (a part of the throat that prevents food entering your lungs) was swollen and almost closed up completely,’ he told NT News. 

‘All around the epiglottis was a grey-green-brown fluff, like decaying flesh.’

Sienna Santiago (left) was in the ICU for 11 days when she was eight years old after a severe throat infection caused by mould in her family's NT Police home left her epiglottis swollen

Sienna Santiago (left) was in the ICU for 11 days when she was eight years old after a severe throat infection caused by mould in her family’s NT Police home left her epiglottis swollen

The family moved into the police house just two years earlier and were shocked to find the home completely covered in mould.

For a year the family struggled to clean the mould but found it would always come back two weeks after they’d cleared it away.

Mr Thomson lodged his first complaint with NT Police in May 2018 after the mould began taking over the family’s furniture and clothes as well as the walls of the home.

He said other police houses in the area were also mouldy. 

Three years later and Sienna (left) is still unable to move the left side of her face and has lost most of the feeling in her right toes

Three years later and Sienna (left) is still unable to move the left side of her face and has lost most of the feeling in her right toes

Mr Thomson said NT Police told him the family could not relocate and he was responsible for the maintenance of the home.

Three years later little Sienna is still recovering from her extreme throat infection, is unable to move the left side of her face and has lost most of the feeling in her right toes.

‘I’m crying just talking to you. It’s just absolutely broken us, and our daughter is possibly going to have a disability for the rest of her life because of NT Police’s lack of assistance,’ Mr Thomson said.

He said the family has received little compensation from NT Police, aside from helping the family relocate to New Zealand after Sienna’s hospitalisation, and is yet to receive an apology. 

An investigation of the home after Sienna was hospitalised found the home was unsafe to live in due to the high levels of dangerous mould.

A NT Police spokesperson told Daily Mail Australia that it ‘takes issues relating to police housing very seriously’ and the home was thoroughly cleaned after the investigation.

NT politician and former police officer Mark Turner wrote to the then-Attorney-General Selena Uibo and the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption following Sienna’s hospitalisation.

‘It is a tragedy that Stephen served the Territory as a member of our police and left with his young daughter, Sienna disabled, potentially for life,’ Mr Turner told Daily Mail Australia.

Photos show the family was constantly cleaning the mould from the home but would find it growing again on their walls, furniture (above), and clothes just two weeks later

Photos show the family was constantly cleaning the mould from the home but would find it growing again on their walls, furniture (above), and clothes just two weeks later

‘What makes me sick to my stomach is, from what I’m told, the mould infestations were completely out of his control yet completely avoidable. It was photographed and reported for years.

‘We have to protect our protectors. Whilst I only have one side of the story, I’m astounded at what appears to be a series of serious systemic failures of compliance with legislation.’

‘We have to take our health and safety duty seriously. It is legislated for a reason.

‘It is a testament to Stephen and his family’s courage that he continues to raise this despite having both his career and family apparently written off.’

NT WorkSafe said it had reopened Mr Thomson’s case after new evidence revealed NT Police allegedly knew of mould issues in the home before Sienna was hospitalised.

MEMBER FOR BLAIN MARK TURNER’S FULL STATEMENT 

‘It is a tragedy that Stephen served the Territory as a member of our Police and left with his young daughter Sienna disabled, potentially for life. What makes me sick to my stomach is, from what I’m told, the mould infestations were completely out of his control yet completely avoidable. It was photographed and reported for years.

‘This type and amount of mould was allegedly so bad that after scientific analysis the properties can only be entered by experts in protective equipment.

‘We have to protect our protectors. Whilst I only have one side of the story, I’m astounded at what appears to be a series of serious systemic failures of compliance with the Work Health and Safety Legislation and breaches of the Public and Environmental Health Act. We have to take our health and safety duty seriously. It is legislated for a reason.

‘Given the serious harm suffered by Sienna, I have written to the Attorney General requesting the matter is investigated by NT Worksafe and as a public officer completed a mandatory referral to the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption.

‘It is a testament to Stephen and his family’s courage that he continues to raise this despite having both his career and family apparently written off. I also know Stephen wants to thank the community of Pirlangimpi for their friendship and support through this tragedy, if it wasn’t for Sienna’s medical care they would still be there.

‘If any workers have mould in their workplaces or employer provided housing, please get it checked before it’s too late. If you are concerned, please call NT Worksafe or go on their website for further information.’

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NORTHERN TERRITORY POLICE FULL STATEMENT 

‘NT Police take issues relating to police housing very seriously. We work closely with the relevant agencies and the NTPA to ensure our members are in suitable accommodation.

‘NT Police engaged a contractor in 2019 to provide a report on the property.

‘Following that report a thorough clean of the property was undertaken.

‘NT Worksafe is now reviewing the matter and it’s appropriate that we leave Worksafe to complete their enquiries.’

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