Ella Kissi-Debrah died in February 2013 after three years of seizures and 27 visits to hospital for treatment to breathing problems.
The nine-year-old’s original inquest in 2014 ruled she had died from acute respiratory failure as a result of a severe asthma attack but did not consider air pollution as a possible cause.
Ella’s mother Rosamund Kissi-Debrah campaigned for years for a more wide-ranging inquest, before High Court judges quashed the original verdict and paved the way for a new investigation.
Speaking today at the start of the two-week inquest, the family’s lawyer Richard Hermer QC said the Mayor of London, Transport for London, and Lewisham Council have said they will not challenge expert conclusions that air pollution contributed to the young girl’s death.
“We don’t know what the position of central government is”, he said, demanding to know “if there is a dispute as to whether or not air pollution contributed to Ella’s death, and if there is a dispute the nature of that dispute.
Alan Payne, representing the government, said he wants to put questions to one of the family’s experts.
Assistant Coroner Philip Barlow said the inquest would explore the issue, as well as how pollution levels were monitored at the time, efforts to reduce pollution and whether the public was adequately warned of the dangers.
High Court judges ordered a new inquest after seeing an expert’s report saying air pollution levels at the Catford monitoring station one mile from Ella’s family home “consistently” exceeded lawful EU limits in the three years prior to her death.
The coroner is also expected to look at evidence of a surge of air pollution in Ella’ local area at the time of her death, as well as levels of traffic on the South Circular which was 25m from the young girl’s home.
If air pollution is found to be a cause of death, it would be a legal first in the UK.