Friends of woman who lay dead in flat for months demand answers

Cables Wynd House, better known as the Leith Banana Flats or as the Banana Block because of its curved shape, is a nine story local authority block in Leith, Edinburgh.
Cables Wynd House, better known as the Leith Banana Flats or as the Banana Block because of its curved shape, is a nine story local authority block in Leith, Edinburgh.
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Friends of a “bright and intelligent” woman who is feared to have lain dead in her Leith flat for months have demanded answers over how she could die alone and forgotten.

The 37-year-old woman has been named locally as PhD graduate and mum-of-one Huma Iqbal who came to make a new life in Edinburgh a decade ago.

Her life is said to have gone into a downward spiral following her divorce and loss of custody with her son.

She was tragically found dead earlier this month by police in her Cables Wynd House flat. The room where she was found is said to have contained no more than a box in the corner and some children’s toys.

Now friends have revealed she begged for food in the months before her death and had been in touch with social services.

The city council has revealed a review of the case is taking place.

Neighbour Navpreet Kaur told the Evening News she believes social services should have done more while Ms Iqbal, who leaves behind her six-year-old son, was deteriorating.

She said: “Huma was a nice lady who was calm and quiet.

“She used to be out all the time when she had her son. When she lost custody she went downhill and began to deteriorate.

“I only used to pass her briefly early in the morning about once a month. I believe she had been in touch with social services who were working with her so I thought she was in good hands. I was shocked when I heard what had happened.

“The social workers are supposed to be looking after people’s wellbeing and they have let her down.”

Ms Iqbal was a chemistry PhD graduate and worked as a professor at a university in Pakistan before coming to the UK around 10 years ago.

Police were alerted to Ms Iqbal’s death at her fifth floor flat at 9.35am on Wednesday, October 18.

They confirmed her death is currently being treated as unexplained and there are no suspicious circumstances.

Friend Azra Ahsan, of Clermiston, said: “It is scary. The last saw Huma around 18 months ago and she was very positive. She had her CV done and was looking for work.

“Her flat was fully furnished and she was happy with her son - there was no signs of depression.

“It is so sad that she cut off her family and friends. I feel there was not enough concern for her for Huma by the health service.”

The city council, its partner agencies and detectives have launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding what happened.

Another friend, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: “It is a very shocking and sickening incident.

“She was a bright young woman who was very intelligent. She loved her son so much and the whole situation is just so sad.

“If we could go back in time I would break down the door. We want answers. We want to know what went wrong.”

It is believed Ms Iqbal was last seen more than a month ago when she went to see the concierge asking for food because she was “starving”.

The friend added: “I understand Huma went to the office for food about. She was hungry and looked very weak. The concierge told her he didn’t have any and to go to Leith food bank.

“She was found in the hallway near the living room and the inside the flat was empty apart from a box in the corner and some children’s toys. There was no food in the flat at all, just a few empty cans. We think she was starving and was just too weak.”

Ms Iqbal’s friends Mr and Mrs Chaudhary said: “We had been friends of the late Huma Iqbal for a number of years although not seen her in quite a while.

“We were aware of her background - an educated woman, divorced from her husband yet someone who doted on her little son.

“We are shocked and heartbroken that she passed away and in particular how she may have died.

“Had we even an inkling of what she may have been going through, we would have done our best to have helped in whatever way we could have. We feel for her son and her tragic loss is something that we will not forget.”

Questions are also being asked as to why Ms Iqbal wasn’t checked on by staff at the flats, a procedure some residents believe should have been followed.

All tenants have fob access at Cables Wynd House and are able to opt in to a vulnerable tenant list which means residents will be checked every three to five days. It is understood Ms Iqbal was not on the vulnerable list.

A City of Edinburgh Council spokesman said: “We were very saddened to hear of the death of the resident at Cables Wynd and a review of the circumstances surrounding what happened is ongoing.”

Ms Iqbal’s funeral took place on Thursday at Edinburgh Central Mosque and her body was flown back to Pakistan to be buried in her hometown of Punjab.

Residents are now hoping to set up a food scheme with the concierge in case there are others in the same position as Ms Iqbal.

The friend said: “If we can stock up on food through donations then anyone in the same situation knows help isn’t far away.

“People are sometimes embarrassed to go to food banks but if a system was in place here, it would be a great help.”