In 2013, 9-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah died after a serious asthma attack close to her south London home. The capital had been experiencing major spikes in air pollution and Kissi-Debrah's family believe that this was the leading cause of her death.
Following a high court ruling made this week, the family is about to embark on a second hearing to prove that this was indeed the case. If successful, it will be a legal first and will no doubt put an enormous onus on the UK government to combat the illegal levels of pollution seen in the city.
To put the severity of London's pollution levels into perspective, hourly levels of NO2 must not breach 200 micrograms per cubic meter more than 18 times in 365 days, according to EU law. Yet in 2016, London violated these limits within just eight days. In 2017, the capital managed to exceed limits in even less time – five days. And while things improved slightly in 2018 – the city held out for a month – there is still a long, long way to go.
The original inquest into Kissi-Debrah's death took place in 2014 and found the cause to be acute respiratory failure and severe asthma. But fresh evidence has emerged since and an attorney-general granted the family leave to apply for a new hearing in January 2019.
"In our judgment, the discovery of new evidence makes it necessary in the interests of justice that a fresh inquest be held," said Mark Lucraft QC, The Guardian reports.
The discovery he is talking about was highlighted in a 2018 report, which contained data revealing illegal levels of pollution detected just 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) from Kissi-Debrah's home. This, the report concludes, in all likelihood contributed to the asthma attack.
Kissi-Debrah lived in the London borough of Lewisham just 25 meters away from one of the city's busiest roads, the South Circular. She was first admitted to the hospital for a coughing fit in 2010. Between then and her untimely death, she visited another 27 times, The BBC reports.
Speaking of the ruling, her mother Rosamund Kissi-Debrah said she was delighted and that she looks forward to learning the truth of her daughter's death.
"The past six years of not knowing why my beautiful, bright and bubbly daughter died has been difficult for me and my family, but I hope the new inquest will answer whether air pollution took her away from us," she said, The Guardian reports.
"If it is proved that pollution killed Ella then the government will be forced to sit up and take notice that this hidden but deadly killer is cutting short our children’s lives."
Unlawful levels of pollution in the UK are linked to some 40,000 premature deaths every single year. But if this inquest proves successful, Ella Kissi-Debrah will be the very first person to have air pollution listed as the cause of death.