Coroner rules air pollution played part in Ella Kissi-Debrah death

Air pollution has been recorded as a medical cause of death of a nine-year-old girl who suffered a fatal asthma attack.

Ella Kissi-Debrah is believed to be the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as the cause of death on their death certificate, following the ruling by a coroner at a second inquest into her death.

She died in February 2013, having endured numerous seizures and made almost 30 hospital visits over the previous three years.

Assistant coroner Philip Barlow gave his findings at Southwark Coroner’s Court after a two-week inquest.

Ella's mother Rosamund Kissi-Debrah speaking outside London's High Court when the 2014 inquest ruling was quashed (Sam Tobin/PA)
Ella’s mother Rosamund Kissi-Debrah speaking outside London’s High Court when the 2014 inquest ruling was quashed (Sam Tobin/PA)

A previous inquest ruling from 2014, which concluded Ella 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.

Giving his narrative conclusion over almost an hour, the coroner said: “I will conclude that Ella died of asthma, contributed to by exposure to excessive air pollution.”

Giving the medical cause of death he said: “I intend to record 1a) acute respiratory failure, 1b) severe asthma 1c) air pollution exposure.”

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

A 2018 report by Professor Sir Stephen Holgate found air pollution levels at the Catford monitoring station one mile from where Ella lived “consistently” exceeded lawful EU limits over the three years prior to her death.

The fresh inquest had 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.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Department of Health, the Department for Transport, Transport for London, the Mayor of London’s Office and Lewisham Council were all named as interested parties in Ella’s death.

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