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Rosamund Kissi-Debrah begins legal action against three government departments

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, mother of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, who was determined to have died as a result of air pollution, has begun legal proceedings against the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for Transport and the Department for Health and Social Care.

Ella, who lived 25m from London’s South Circular, was admitted to hospital 30 times with asthma attacks before she died. Her death certificate originally cited the cause of death as ‘acute respiratory failure’.

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, speaking at the first National Air Quality Conference

It was some time later that it was suggested, by Sir Stephen Holgate among others, that the severity of Ella’s asthma could be linked to the poor air quality where she lived. 

Rosamund fought for a second inquest and this took place in December 2020, seven years after Ella’s death. Here it was found that air pollution was a ‘significant contributory factor to both the induction and exacerbations of her asthma’.

The coroner subsequently published a Prevention of Future Deaths Report which stated: ‘Air pollution was a significant contributory factor to both the induction and exacerbations of her asthma. 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 Organization Guidelines. The principal source of her exposure was traffic emissions.

‘During this period there was a recognized failure to reduce the level of nitrogen dioxide to within the limits set by EU and domestic law which possibly contributed to her death. Ella’s mother was not given information by health professionals about the health risks of air pollution and its potential to exacerbate asthma. If she had been given this information she would have taken steps which might have prevented Ella’s death.

‘There was no dispute at the inquest that atmospheric air pollution is the cause of many thousand premature deaths every year in the UK. Delay in reducing the levels of atmospheric air pollution is the cause of avoidable deaths.’

The new legal action is brought on behalf of Ella’s Estate against the three  government departments for breaches of her rights under the Human Rights Act, including a breach of the right to life.

Hodge Jones & Allen, who represented Ella’s family at the inquest, are doing so again in this case.

Ravi Mehta said, in written arguments prepared for yesterday’s preliminary hearing, that this was was no ordinary personal injury claim: ‘The wider significance of the claim is obvious.

‘If successful, it will be the first claim to establish what Rosamund has described as the ‘right to clean air’ under the Human Rights Act.

‘There was huge public interest in the inquest into Ella’s death and Rosamund’s campaigning in respect of air quality has been recognised at the highest level, including by her recent appointment Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to public health.’

‘It is factually complex because it concerns the acts and omissions of three Government departments over a period of many years.

‘The extent of the expert evidence and disclosure is likely to resemble that which would be seen in the context of a piece of group litigation.’



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