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A mother is calling, for a second time, for a private inquest to be held in order to identify whether or not her daughter’s asthma was caused by London’s polluted air.  Ella Kissi-Debrah was just nine years old when she suffered a fatal asthma attack and died in February 2013.  Despite an initial inquest having been carried out, it only identified that Ella had died from acute respiratory failure, and not what the primary cause of the asthma was.

Natalie Donald Ella was born a very healthy child and did not begin experiencing asthmatic symptoms until the age of seven.  She is recorded as having suffered one of the worst asthma cases known.  The family lived off of the South Circular in London, one of the major roads.  Ella’s mother, Rosamund Kissi-Debrah’s, struggled to work out what Ella’s triggers were for two years.  However, after discovering just how high the pollution level in her area was (well above the legal limit), her suspicions surrounding the root of the asthma grew and, in 2016, Ella’s mother enlisted the assistance of human rights lawyer, Jocelyn Cockburn, to assist with the fight.

Ella’s post-mortem report also identified that something in the air triggered her asthma.  Ella’s mother is now calling for an inquest, or an independent inquiry, to be held to identify what this something was via further testing of the tissue.  If the inquest does go ahead, this will be the first opportunity that the UK has had to prove that polluted air is directly causative of death and, providing that the evidence supports this premise, there could be a landmark ruling forcing government bodies to take drastic action to cut unsafe emission levels.  Arguably, it will also open the floodgates for suing local authorities for breaching the duty of care owed to their citizens.

However, it is not just the citizens of London, or even England, who are affected by this.  At the beginning of the year, the European Commission sent a “final warning” to the UK as a whole for failing to address repeated breaches of legal air pollution limits in a number of cities, including Glasgow.  It found that Hope Street, in the city centre, is one of the most polluted streets in Scotland, possessing 65 micrograms of nitrogen dioxide per cubic metre, breaking the European Directive of 40 micrograms.  Also in the list, was Cambuslang Main Street and Dumbarton Road.

Given the extent of the breaches committed by the UK in relation to air pollution, it is not surprising that there is reluctance to test Ella’s tissue sample.  I do not imagine that the government could cope well with the implementation of urgent plans and protocols, if it was proven that the asthma was causative of the pollution.  However, the overriding factor in this case is the public interest.  It is fully in the public’s interest to hold a second inquest.  At the moment, we do have access to the tissue sample.   Accordingly, we do have the powers to identify whether or not air pollution played a part in this child’s death, and whether there is potential for such an event to occur again.

We already knew that there was evidence highlighting that pollution shortens the lives of the elderly, those suffering from heart problems, and those suffering from respiratory problems.  However, we now have a nine year old child whose death could also have been caused by the horrific pollution levels; and, four years on, we are still no further forwards.  It is about time that Westminster, and of course, the Scottish Government, constructed an action plan to combat emissions. The Scottish Government promised a ‘plan’ for Low Emission Zones by 2017.  However, it needs to make a public commitment to provide significant finances to local bodies and reiterate the significance of the danger to the public now, before another life is lost.

If you want to learn more about the campaign for Ella, please visit www.ellaroberta.org

Blog by Natalie Donald.

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