But much of the story, in which an immigrant family was pitted against Swedish bureaucracy, has turned out to be a stunt, staged by the family in question to garner media support for their quest for lodgings in the town of Gävle.
A journalist at local newspaper Gefle Dagblad, which ran extensive coverage of the family’s plight, began to suspect that something was not quite right.
Mats Hedström looked at the public records and found that the “hero” of the tale, a supposed passer-by who had alerted the authorities to the family’s dire situation, was in fact a brother of the woman at the centre of the story.
Prior to this revelation media outlets of all shapes and sizes had descended on the local council demanding to know why the family, with origins in Iraq, was not being granted housing. How could they let a family with six children resort to lighting hazardous fires in decrepit cellars?
“We were exposed everywhere as the council that had children living in a cellar, and that was difficult,” Wolter Planck from Gävle’s social services department told Svenska Dagbladet.
It soon became clear that the family was in fact registered in Malmö, where the local council had already provided them with housing. But they were keen on a move to the eastern town of Gävle.
“They used the media to put pressure on us to arrange accommodation for them,” said Planck.
The family claimed that they had fled Malmö following continued harassment from a neighbouring family.
“The only verifiable information is that they hired a guard through Malmö council. The guard watched over the family for two weeks, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
“At the end of that time he had nothing to report,” Mats Hedström told The Local.
All six children were released from hospital on the same day they were admitted.
“Only hospital staff know the extent of the injuries, and they will not say anything,” said Hedström.
But all’s well that ends well for the family. Gävle council finally found them a home.
“But it wasn’t because of the cellar story. It was the fact that their situation changed when the contract for their flat in Malmö ran out,” said Wolter Planck.