Shelagh Fogarty 1pm - 4pm
Inquest to rule if illegal levels of air pollution killed London schoolgirl
30 November 2020, 11:33
A landmark inquest is to rule whether illegal levels of air pollution caused the death of a nine-year-old girl in south London.
A coroner will rule whether toxic levels of nitrogen dioxide from the South Circular road led to the asthma attack that killed Ella Kissi-Debrah in 2013.
Her mother, Rosamund, has fought for years for an inquest to assess the role of air pollution from the traffic in her daughter's death.
If it is found that the air pollution was a causative factor in Ella's death, it will make legal history as the first case which identifies pollution as a cause of death in the UK.
Ella's case is thought to be the first case of its kind in the world.
The inquest, which begins on Monday, was granted after lawyers for the family presented new evidence that linked Ella's form of asthma and death with the traffic on London’s South Circular near her home in Lewisham, south-east London.
They also showed that her death coincided with one of the worst surges of air pollution in her local area.
The inner south London district coroner will on Monday examine possible failings by government bodies to take necessary steps to reduce air pollution and to provide public information about the risks it poses.
They will also examine the extent to which this impacted upon Ella's death.
Speaking before the hearing, Rosamund Kissi-Debrah told the Guardian: “It’s coming up to eight years since Ella passed and it’s been a long, hard fight to get this inquest, with challenges along the way.
"What I want is justice for Ella, and for her to have on her death certificate the true cause of why she died.”
The first inquest in 2014 made no mention of air pollution, and the coroner instead ruled Ella had died of acute respiratory failure caused by severe asthma.
However, the verdict was quashed in 2019 and a new inquest ordered following new evidence from the family was presented to the Attorney General.
The new evidence used mapping from Professor Sir Stephen Holgate, one of the UK’s leading experts on air pollution, to show how Ella's admissions to hospital coincided with spikes in air pollution levels around her home.
His report concluded: “The dramatic worsening of her asthma in relation to air pollution episodes would go a long way to explain the timing of her exacerbations across her last four years.
"There is a real prospect that without unlawful levels of air pollution, Ella would not have died.”