In legal first, coroner finds Ella’s death was caused by air pollution

London: For more than seven years now, Rosamund Kissi-Debrah has been searching for the truth about why her nine-year-old daughter Ella died so young and in such pain.

"I do not think that I can grieve properly about the loss of Ella until I get to the bottom of this," Kissi-Debrah told a coronial inquest in London earlier this month.

On Wednesday she was given an answer: Ella – an exuberant girl who loved swimming, dancing and football and whose favourite hymn was I Vow To Thee My Country – was killed in part by pollution.

Ella Kissi-Debrah is the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as a cause of death.Credit:Ella Roberta Family Foundation

Ella lived just 25 metres from South Circular Road in south-east London – one of the capital's busiest roads – and would often walk to and from school along the congested thoroughfare.

The landmark finding made Ella the first person in the United Kingdom to have air pollution listed as a cause of death. Lawyers say it might also be a world-first, with major implications for government policy.

Ella died in the early hours of February 15, 2013 after a massive asthma attack triggered cardiac arrest. In the three years prior she had suffered seizures and was admitted to hospital 27 times.

A 2014 inquest found her death was the result of acute respiratory failure, but the High Court overturned that ruling last year once new evidence emerged about air pollution in London.

Deputy Coroner Philip Barlow presided over a new two-week inquest and on Wednesday ruled Ella's death was caused by acute respiratory failure, severe asthma and air pollution exposure.

"Air pollution was a significant contributory factor to both the induction and exacerbations of her asthma," Barlow said.

"During the course of her illness between 2010 and 2013 she was exposed to levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter in excess of World Health Organisation guidelines. The principal source of her exposure was traffic emissions."

Barlow said there was a "recognised failure" to reduce pollution within European and domestic law which "possibly contributed to her death". He also said Ella's mother was never given information about the health risks of air pollution and its potential to exacerbate her daughter's asthma.

"If she had been given this information she would have taken steps which might have prevented Ella's death."

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah has been campaigning for the truth since her daughter died.

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah thanked the coroner for his findings: "Seven million people around the world die every year courtesy of air pollution. Yes this was about my daughter getting air pollution on the death certificate, which we finally have and we've got the justice for her which she so deserved.

"But this is also about other children still who are walking around our city with high levels of pollution. And I hope you heard what the coroner said – that there are still illegal levels of pollution now as we speak. So this matter is far from over."

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