BY TOBY PORTER
A new inquest looks likely to be held into the death of a nine-year-old girl whose fatal asthma may be linked to illegal levels of air pollution.
The Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has moved to quash the previous inquest concerning Ella Kissi-Debrah, who lived by the congested South Circular Road in Forest Hill, Lewisham.
She died in February 2013 after three years of seizures and 27 visits to hospital for asthma attacks. An expert last year linked her death to the dangerously high levels of pollution that breached legal limits.
Her mother Rosamund has been campaigning since then to have the original verdict overturned. Mr Cox has allowed her to apply to the High Court to quash the first inquest and have a new one heard, after the first inquest failed to consider the impact of air pollution on her death.
An application will now be lodged and a judge will decide if a new inquest will take place.
Mother-of-two Rosamund said: “Words cannot express how happy I am that the Attorney General has taken this decision, and I would like to thank him for reaching his conclusion.
“Nothing will bring my beautiful, bright, bubbly child back, but now at least I may get answers about how she died and whether it was air pollution which snatched her away from us.
“I hope a new inquest will make those in power realise that our children are dying as a result of the air that they breathe. “This cannot go on.
Why is this not being taken more seriously by the Government. What do we need to do to make them prioritise our children’s lives over convenience and the rights of people to pollute?
“It’s not going to be an easy journey, but we knew that from the outset, and we are determined to get justice for Ella. Having the effects of air pollution recorded on her death certificate would be a legal first.
“It would send a clear message to our Government that they must tackle the deadly impact of air pollution.
If we don’t deal with this now we will be very soon tackling a public health crisis.
“Ella was a bubbly, healthy, active and happy child. She loved cycling, skateboarding, playing football and won many certificates for her swimming. She dreamt of becoming a pilot, but she died on February 15, 2013.
“This isn’t just about Ella. Air pollution causes about 40,000 premature deaths per year in the UK, and levels of nitrogen dioxide have been illegally high since 2010 in the vast majority of urban areas in the UK.
The Government has been taken to court three times over the illegal levels of air pollution in the UK and lost each time. And yet still the authorities are failing to act.
The statistics do not show the human impact of these Government failings – I believe that Ella’s inquest will demonstrate her suffering over three long, hard years and will provide the impetus for change.”
Jocelyn Cockburn, Partner at Hodge Jones & Allen, who represents Rosamund, said: “This is a major step on the path to getting justice for this family which has been looking for answers into why Ella lost her life.
“An inquest will provide a better understanding of why she died and whether her death was avoidable. It will force the Government and other bodies to account for their actions and, in many regards their inaction, on air pollution over this period.
“Air pollution is costing people’s lives and those most vulnerable are children. There is a need for more urgency into how air pollution is dealt with in urban areas to bring it within lawful limits as soon as possible.”
Ella lived 25 metres from the South Circular Road, which has notoriously high levels of pollution.
Up until the end of 2010, Ella had been extremely active and in a good health. Yet following a chest infection in October 2010, she suffered from respiratory issues for the remainder of her short life, being treated across five London hospitals for severe unstable asthma, resulting in 27 separate hospital admissions over a three-year period.
An inquest at Southwark Coroner’s Court on September 26, 2014 into Ella’s death concluded that her death was caused by acute respiratory failure and severe asthma.
Professor Stephen Holgate, an expert on asthma and air pollution, was instructed to carry out a report into her death and said there was a “striking association” between the times she was admitted to hospital and recorded spikes in nitrogen dioxide and PM10s, the most noxious pollutants, near her home.
His report said there was a “real prospect that without unlawful levels of air pollution, Ella would not have died” He also considered that the death certificate should be amended to reflect that air pollution was a contributory factor in her death.
Rosamund has launched a campaign to raise £25,000 to help pay for representation at the High Court hearing at www.crowdjustice.com/case/airpollution/.
She has also been announced as one of the Green Party’s list of candidates for the Greater London Authority elections next year.
“I was getting really narked about the pollution in South London,” she said. “But when I stood in the Lewisham by-election last year, I came fourth, even though only a few months ago no one had heard of me.”