Extraordinary Landmark Inquest Determines Air Pollution Led to Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah’s Death

Global First: British Girl’s Death Certificate Cites Air Pollution as Cause of Death

London, December 18, 2020 – In a groundbreaking ruling on Wednesday, Deputy Coroner Phillip Barlow declared that Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, a 9-year-old girl residing just 25 meters from London’s South Circular, died in February 2013 as a direct consequence of air pollution. This landmark decision is believed to be the first of its kind worldwide.

Deputy Coroner Philip Barlow officially stated that air pollution played a “significant role in Ella’s death.” Ella was exposed to nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter levels that exceeded the guidelines set by the World Health Organization. The excessive air pollution she encountered resulted primarily from traffic emissions.

The coroner acknowledged the failure to reduce nitrogen dioxide levels in accordance with both EU and domestic law. This failure potentially contributed to Ella’s passing. Additionally, Ella’s mother did not receive information concerning the health risks associated with air pollution and its potential to worsen asthma. Lack of information also played a potential role in Ella’s demise.

The coroner concluded that “Air Pollution was a significant contributory factor to both the induction and exacerbation of her asthma.” In essence, Ella’s cause of death can be described as follows:

  • Acute respiratory failure
  • Severe asthma
  • Air pollution exposure

Ella’s mother, Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, expressed her profound shock immediately following the verdict. She described the emotional journey that led to this point and expressed hope that it would bring about positive changes for children worldwide. Rosamund frequently receives letters from individuals in various countries, including India, sharing their struggles with air pollution. While justice has been served for Ella, Rosamund emphasized that illegal levels of air pollution persist today, making it clear that the battle is far from over.

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Rosamund’s main desire, as a result of this inquest, is for improved education on air pollution and more effective measures to reduce pollution levels to safety standards. She believes that a comprehensive public awareness campaign is necessary. Clear and concise information is essential for the public to fully comprehend the damage that air pollution inflicts on young lungs, in particular.

Jocelyn Cockburn, Rosamund’s lead lawyer at Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors, hailed the verdict as an answer to an important question that had plagued Rosamund for nearly five years. She recognized the significance of this ruling, which has finally shattered the skepticism surrounding the link between air pollution and individual deaths. Jocelyn also emphasized that this case has brought the air pollution issue to a personal level, making it difficult for authorities to ignore the urgent need for clean air. The human story behind the statistics has been told, leaving a lasting legacy in Ella’s name.

Moving forward, pressure mounts on the UK government to adopt the World Health Organization’s guideline levels to protect the population from high levels of air pollution. This case has garnered global attention, highlighting air pollution as a pressing issue on an international scale. The ruling sets a precedent for lawyers in other jurisdictions who can now utilize Article 2 of the European Human Rights Act to safeguard lives from environmental hazards.

The coroner has opened the opportunity for Interested Parties to submit proposals regarding a Prevention of Future Death report. The deadline for submissions is January 15, 2021, and the Coroner will review them accordingly.

As the inquest came to a close, the coroner fondly described Ella as a vibrant young girl with captivating eyes and a radiant smile. He expressed gratitude to Rosamund for her unwavering determination in seeking justice for Ella.

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Further Information

The inquest, held from November 30 to December 11, featured key evidence presented by Professor Sir Stephen Holgate. Professor Holgate explained how Ella was affected by the cumulative impact of toxic air due to her rare form of asthma. Ella lived with constant threats to her life and experienced 28 hospital admissions within a span of just three years. Professor Holgate likened her situation to that of a “canary in a coal mine.”

Rosamund was represented by the dedicated legal team at Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors:

  • Jocelyn Cockburn, partner in the Civil Liberties and Human Rights team
  • Guy Mitchell, solicitor
  • Megan Finnis, paralegal

The legal team was supported by esteemed counsels:

  • Richard Hermer QC, Matrix Chambers
  • Adam Straw, Doughty Street Chambers
  • Ravi Mehta, Blackstone Chambers

Jocelyn expressed her privilege in working alongside such a committed team, acknowledging their tireless efforts to achieve justice for Ella.

A detailed chronology of Rosamund’s legal battle in seeking justice for Ella can be found below:

  • February 15, 2013: Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah dies from a severe asthma attack following years of seizures and numerous hospital admissions related to her asthma. She was only 9 years old.
  • January 24, 2014: In honor of Ella’s 10th birthday, Rosamund establishes the Ella Roberta Foundation.
  • September 26, 2014: The first inquest into Ella’s death takes place at Southwark Coroner’s court. The cause of death is recorded as Acute Respiratory failure due to severe asthma. However, the role of air pollution was not investigated.
  • 2015-2016: Air pollution gains widespread attention due to the Dieselgate scandal, the ClientEarth Supreme Court ruling, and the Royal College of Physicians’ report on the dangerous impact of air pollution. Rosamund starts advocating and speaking out about air pollution, suspecting it may have played a part in Ella’s death.
  • May 2016: Rosamund reaches out to Jocelyn at Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors to explore the possibility of legal action concerning Ella’s health and the impact of air pollution. Preparatory work begins, analyzing Ella’s air pollution exposure and gathering expert evidence.
  • July 2018: Rosamund and her lawyers apply to the Attorney General, seeking to reopen Ella’s inquest based on new evidence from Professor Stephen Holgate.
  • August 2018: London Mayor Sadiq Khan supports the call to quash the first inquest, and Rosamund presents a 100,000-signature petition to the Attorney General.
  • February 2019: Rosamund and her legal team apply to the High Court to overturn the findings of the first inquest.
  • May 2, 2019: High Court judges quash the first inquest’s findings due to new evidence on the risks of air pollution. A fresh inquest is deemed necessary in the interest of justice.
  • November 30 – December 11, 2020: The second inquest into Ella’s death takes place, focusing on the role of air pollution.
  • December 16, 2020: Deputy Coroner Phillip Barlow delivers his conclusions, ruling that air pollution materially contributed to Ella’s death.
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