A bereft mother today won the right for a new inquest into the death of her severely asthmatic nine-year-old daughter to examine whether the state failed in its duty to protect her from unlawful air pollution.
Ella Kissi-Debrah could now become the first person in the UK for whom air pollution is listed as the cause of death.
The schoolgirl died having suffered a cardiac arrest in February 2013 after three years of seizures and 27 visits to five different hospitals.
‘Beautiful, bright and bubbly’ Ella lived in Lewisham, south-east
But no medical professionals suspected a link between air pollution and her asthma – but a new inquest expected next year will consider if the state failed to protect her from illegal air pollution.
Her mother Rosamund successfully applied to the High Court in May to quash the original 2014 inquest into her death following the new evidence in a 2018 report that said air quality in the mile around her house ‘consistently’ exceeded lawful limits.
And today Assistant Coroner Philip Barlow told a pre-inquest review hearing in Southwark: ‘It does seem to me that the scope of the investigation needs to move on to look at the pollution issue.’
Ella Kissi-Debrah suffered a cardiac arrest at the age of just nine and died in February 2013 after three years of seizures, and 27 visits to hospital for asthma attacks
Ella’s heartbroken mother Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah said had she had known of the danger they faced, she would have moved to a different area, and has spent the past six years fighting for justice
Ms Kissi-Debrah says that had she had known about the dangers her daughter faced she would have moved to a different area, and has spent the past six years fighting for justice.
The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department for Transport, Transport for London (TfL), the Mayor’s office and Lewisham Council are having to give evidence in the proceedings.
It was decided today that London Ambulance Service and University Hospital Lewisham, whose representatives also attended the hearing, will not be required to give fresh evidence, due to the scope of the initial inquest.
Rosamund Kissi-Debrah at Southwark Coroners Court today where a coroner
The inquest at Inner South London Coroners’ Court in 2014, focused on Ella’s medical care and concluded the cause of her death was acute respiratory failure as a result of a severe asthma attack.
A report submitted to the High Court by Professor Stephen Holgate last year found air pollution levels at a monitoring station one mile from Ella’s home ‘consistently’ exceeded lawful limits.
Assistant Coroner Barlow set out ‘three quite broad issues’ at a pre-inquest review hearing on Tuesday, the first being ‘whether air pollution caused or contributed’ to Ella’s death.
Mr Barlow said the inquest will also address how air pollution levels were monitored and what steps were taken to reduce the pollution.
The coroner added that Ella’s family have asked the inquest to look at whether there was enough information available about the levels of air pollution in London, as well as its dangers.
Richard Hermer QC, representing the nine-year-old’s family, said Ella’s mother Rosamund Kissi-Debrah was in the process of consulting with air pollution experts ahead of the inquest.
Ms Kissi-Debrah has spent six years trying to fight for answers surround the death of her daughter in 2019 and is pictured here on the South Circular near where the family lived
Little Ella, pictured aged two in 2006, will now get a new inquest that will consider if she was failed by the authorities
The family have also asked whether or not the Department for Health will be listed as an interested party.
Following the hearing on Tuesday, Ms Kissi-Debrah told reporters: ‘I’m just relieved that’s over for today – it’s a week before Christmas.
‘All I can say is we know a lot more now about air pollution. We hope it will save future lives.
‘It’s not going to bring my daughter back, but I hope it will save future lives.’
A further pre-inquest review is due to be held on April 8 ahead of the full inquest, which is currently scheduled for the end of 2020 and will sit without a jury.
Ella lived 25 metres from the South Circular Road in Lewisham, south-east London – one of the capital’s busiest roads.
The inquest in 2014 concluded that Ella’s cause of death was acute respiratory failure as a result of a severe asthma attack.
Ella Kissi-Debrah lived in Hither Green, some 25 metres from the South Circular Road in Lewisham in south east London (pictured) – one of the capital’s busiest roads
But the 2018 report by Professor Stephen Holgate found air pollution levels at the Catford monitoring station one mile from Ella’s home ‘consistently’ exceeded lawful EU limits over the three years prior to her death.
Jocelyn Cockburn, representing Ms Kissi-Debrah, said: ‘There is very significant public interest in Ella’s inquest and I am pleased that the coroner is minded to hold an Article 2 inquest.
‘Air pollution is a human rights issue and the Coroner’s ruling recognises that the British public have a ‘right to life’ in terms of air pollution and that there are arguable grounds for suggesting that this was breached in Ella’s case.’
Sadiq Khan said he welcomed the fresh inquest into Ella’s death, adding: ‘Toxic air pollution is a public health crisis, especially for our children.’