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Family’s delight at new inquest into girl’s death linked with air pollution

Judges have quashed the result of 2014 hearing into the death of Ella Kissi-Debrah in light of new evidence.

Ella Kissi-Debrah, 9, died in 2013 following three years of seizures and asthma attacks (Family handout/PA)
Ella Kissi-Debrah, 9, died in 2013 following three years of seizures and asthma attacks (Family handout/PA)

A fresh inquest will be held into the death of a nine-year-old girl who suffered a fatal asthma attack believed to be linked to air pollution.

Ella Kissi-Debrah died in February 2013 following three years of seizures and 27 visits to hospital for asthma attacks.

High Court judges ruled on Thursday that the result a 2014 inquest into her death should be quashed and a new hearing held.

Her mother, Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, applied to the court for another inquest after new evidence came to light regarding air pollution levels close to their home.

I am absolutely delighted by today’s ruling and look forward to finally getting the truth about Ella’s death Rosamund Kissi-Debrah

Ella lived 25 metres from the South Circular Road in Lewisham in south east London – one of the capital’s busiest roads – and a 2018 report concluded it was likely that unlawful levels of pollution contributed to her fatal asthma attack.

The inquest in 2014 focused on Ella’s medical care and concluded the cause of her death was acute respiratory failure as a result of a severe asthma attack.

But the 2018 report by Professor Stephen Holgate found 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.

Giving the go-ahead for a new inquest, Judge Mark Lucraft QC, sitting with two other judges, said: “In our judgment, the discovery of new evidence makes it necessary in the interests of justice that a fresh inquest be held.”

The judge said it is submitted on behalf of Ella’s family that the new evidence demonstrates there was an “arguable failure” by the state to comply with its duties under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to life.

Ella may become the first person in the UK for whom air pollution is listed as the cause of death.

In a statement after the ruling, Mrs Kissi-Debrah said: “I am absolutely delighted by today’s ruling and look forward to finally getting the truth about Ella’s death.

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London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he welcomed the decision for a fresh inquest (Yui Mok/PA)

“The past six years of not knowing why my beautiful, bright and bubbly daughter died has been difficult for me and my family, but I hope the new inquest will answer whether air pollution took her away from us.

“If it is proved that pollution killed Ella then the Government will be forced to sit up and take notice that this hidden but deadly killer is cutting short our children’s lives.”

Jocelyn Cockburn, partner at law firm Hodge Jones & Allen who represents Rosamund, said: “We are pleased that we have been granted a new inquest for Ella so we can find out if her death was avoidable and if air pollution contributed to her death.

“A new inquest will also mean the Government and other public bodies will have to answer difficult questions about why they have ignored the overwhelming evidence about the detrimental health impact of air pollution and allowed illegal levels to persist for more than a decade.

“There is now momentum for change and it is fundamental that air pollution is brought down to within lawful limits.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “I applaud the High Court for recognising the scale of the air pollution health crisis, and granting the family of Ella Kissi-Debrah a new inquest into the causes of her death.

“Air pollution is a killer in London and across the UK — but here in the capital we are delivering bold action to address this toxic crisis that causes asthma, cancer and dementia and thousands of premature deaths.

“Evidence shows that our children are the most vulnerable to the effects of our poisonous air.”

PA

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