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Timetable set for new inquest into ‘air quality’ death of child

A new inquest into the death of 9 year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah will be held November or December this year, following the ordering of a new inquest by the high court last year.

The schoolgirl died in 2013 following a severe asthma attack and the subsequent inquest into her death found the cause of death to be acute respiratory failure caused by asthma. However, the schoolgirl’s family believe that illegal levels of air pollution near the child’s home off the South Circular Road in Catford, London, were a significant factor in Ella’s death and have campaigned for a new inquest to be held to consider the effect of air pollution on her asthma.

New evidence submitted by an expert on air pollution, Professor Stephen Holgate, suggested Ella might have survived if the air pollution around her home had not been so high. In January the attorney general granted the family leave to apply for a new hearing.

Ella’s family’s lawyers argued that the new evidence showed there was an “arguable failure” by the state in the execution of its duties under the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects right to life. They will argue in the new inquest that if the family had been aware of the dangers of the levels of pollution near her home were, her death could have been prevented.

At a pre-inquest review, held on17th December 2019, deputy coroner Philip Barlow said that Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights is “engaged in this case”.

He said: “The state has an obligation to protect life. If there’s a breach of that obligation then that triggers a supplementary obligation to the state to put in hand an investigation. The obligation to protect life is under Article 2 of the Human Rights Act.“

In this case there’s at least an arguable breach of both domestic and EU law in that the pollution levels at the time of Ella’s death consistently exceeded the statutory levels”.

If the new inquest does conclude that air pollution was a factor in the child’s death, it would be the first time that an inquest has done so.

Caroline Russell, a Green party member of the London assembly, told the Guardian: “This could have huge implications for the public bodies who will no longer be able to escape the consequences of their inaction and it could open them to financial and legal risks.”

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