New inquest sought over girl whose death was linked to air pollution

The mother of a nine-year-old girl whose death was linked to unlawful levels of air pollution has applied to the High Court to quash her daughter’s inquest and grant a new hearing.

Lawyers acting on behalf of Rosamund Kissi-Debrah said the application for a new inquest into the death of her daughter Ella had been lodged at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Friday morning.

The application has been submitted on the sixth anniversary of the youngster’s death in February 2013 following three years of seizures and 27 visits to hospital for asthma attacks.

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

Lawyers say her original inquest in 2014 did not investigate the potential impact of air pollution, concluding that Ella’s cause of death was acute respiratory failure caused by a severe asthma attack.

But an expert report by Professor Stephen Holgate, quoted in a submission to the Attorney General, concluded that it was likely that unlawful levels of air pollution contributed to Ella’s fatal asthma attack.

The Attorney General Geoffrey Cox QC last month granted the family permission to apply for a fresh inquest after concluding there was “new evidence which may alter the substantial truth of Ella’s death”.

If the family’s request is granted, Ella may become the first person in the UK for whom air pollution is listed as the cause of death.

Ella Kissi-Debrah inquest
Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, who has applied to the High Court for a fresh inquest into her daughter Ella’s death (PA Images).

Ms Kissi-Debrah said it was “simply unacceptable in this day and age” that children were dying because of the air they breathe.

She added: “This is the latest step in finding out if it was air pollution that snatched my beautiful and bubbly daughter away from me.

“While nothing will bring her back, I hope a new inquest will give me the answers I need and help hold those in power, who allow our cities to have dangerous and illegal levels of pollution, to account.

“I hope that Ella’s case will make the Government take the issue of air pollution seriously and will help prevent other parents from having to mourn the death of their child.”

Professor Holgate’s report, obtained in April 2018, said 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.

Prof Holgate – a leading expert in asthma and air pollution – found a “striking association” between Ella’s hospital admissions and air pollution episodes.

He concluded there was “a real prospect that without unlawful levels of air pollution Ella would not have died”.

After the fresh evidence emerged, more than 170,000 people signed a petition set up by Ella’s mother, calling for a fresh inquest.

Jocelyn Cockburn, partner at Hodge Jones & Allen, which represents Ms Kissi-Debrah, said the case had wider implications about children breathing unlawful levels of air pollution across the country.

She added: “We hope that the High Court will look favourably on this application and allow a further inquest into Ella’s death.

“Only then will the family get the answers it needs to help them understand what led to Ella’s death six years ago and whether it was avoidable.

“Furthermore, this case has wider implications – as in large areas of our country, children continue to breathe in unlawful levels of air pollution.

“This investigation will shine a light on what the Government is doing, or not doing, to clean up the air in the soonest time possible as is required by law and identify steps that must be taken to avoid future deaths.”