Ruling due on whether air pollution contributed to death of nine-year-old girl


A coroner is due to make a ruling in the inquest of a nine-year-old girl which could see air pollution listed as a cause of death for the first time in the UK.

Ella Kissi-Debrah died in February 2013 having suffered a fatal asthma attack.

She had endured numerous seizures and made almost 30 hospital visits over the previous three years.

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah said she wants justice for her daughter (Rosamund Kissi-Debrah/PA)
Rosamund Kissi-Debrah said she wants justice for her daughter (Rosamund Kissi-Debrah/PA)

An inquest ruling from 2014, which concluded she died of acute respiratory failure, was quashed by the High Court following new evidence about the dangerous levels of air pollution close to her home.

Ella had lived 25 metres from the South Circular Road in Lewisham, south-east London – one of the capital’s busiest roads.

A fresh two-week inquest held at Southwark Coroner’s Court has been considering whether pollution in the area may have contributed to her death.

If the coroner finds that air pollution caused or contributed to Ella’s death, she would become the first person in the UK to have it listed as the cause of death on her death certificate, her family’s solicitors said.

Ella’s mother Rosamund Kissi-Debrah has said she wants justice for her daughter but also hopes the conclusion will have a positive impact on other children’s lives.

Speaking last week when hearings ended, she said: “The reason why this whole thing started, at the end of it, I would like justice for my daughter and that is why I am here, first and foremost.

“I do also appreciate that if we get the judgment (conclusion) that we need, it will impact a lot of children’s lives for the better and that’s what this process is about.”

Giving evidence at the inquest earlier this month Professor Sir Stephen Holgate, the author of the report that quashed the findings of the first proceedings, said Ella had an “exceptionally rare” form of asthma that put her at “exquisite” risk.

He described her as a “canary in a coalmine”, highlighting the risk of pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) to other Londoners.

Sir Stephen, who was a member of the Royal Commission for Environmental Pollution until it was closed in 2011, heavily criticised the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department of Health (DH) for failing to work together on toxic air.

He said the first time he had seen ministers from the two departments working together on the issue in 40 years of experience was in 2019 when the Government launched its Clean Air Strategy.

Ella’s inquest has been listed under Article 2 – the right to life – of the Human Rights Act, which scrutinises the role of public bodies in a person’s death.

As well as Defra and DH others named as interested parties in Ella’s death include the Department for Transport, Transport for London, the Mayor of London’s Office and Lewisham Council.

Assistant coroner Philip Barlow is due to give his conclusion on the latest inquest on Wednesday.