Ella Kissi-Debrah: Sadiq Khan apologises to family of young victim for not acting sooner on air pollution

The nine-year-old became the first person in the world to have air pollution listed as a cause on her death certificate
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The London Mayor has formally apologised to the family of young Ella Kissi-Debrah for not acting sooner to tackle the poor air quality that contributed to her death - more than 10 years ago.

Sadiq Khan issued the apology to her mother, Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, at an event on Friday (2 February), on behalf of the Greater London Authority and Transport for London. A statement sent out by the family's legal firm said that Ella had a happy childhood growing up in Southeast London, close to the busy South Circular Road in Lewisham. But the young girl developed asthma, just before her seventh birthday.

Her asthma attacks left her struggling to breathe and she required frequent hospitalisation. A few weeks after her ninth birthday, in 2013, she suffered a fatal asthma attack and passed away. In December 2020, the Coroner concluded that air pollution contributed to Ella’s death, and she became the first person in the world to have air pollution recorded as a cause of death on her death certificate. The Coroner’s findings came after Rosamund's determined campaigning to uncover possible links between her daughter's death and London's polluted air - particularly the illegally high levels of nitrogen dioxide caused by traffic on the South Circular.

Ella Kissi-Debrah was just nine years old when she suffered a fatal asthma attack (Photo: Family handout/PA Wire)Ella Kissi-Debrah was just nine years old when she suffered a fatal asthma attack (Photo: Family handout/PA Wire)
Ella Kissi-Debrah was just nine years old when she suffered a fatal asthma attack (Photo: Family handout/PA Wire)

Having represented Ella’s family at the inquest, Hodge Jones & Allen also issued a claim against several public bodies, including government departments, the Mayor of London, and Transport for London, for breaching the Human Rights Act. Rosamund has accepted a settlement offer advanced by the Mayor and TfL - which included a personal apology from Sadiq Khan. “As the Mayor of London, I’d like to take this opportunity – on behalf of the Greater London Authority and our city – to offer a full and unqualified apology for not acting sooner to tackle air pollution, which ultimately led to the tragic death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah," Khan said. "In recent years, we’ve ensured that London is a world-leader in reducing air pollution. But it’s clear that London’s leaders and institutions could have done more and sooner to address the dangers of toxic air," he continued. "And so, to Ella’s mother Rosamund and her family, and to all those who knew and loved Ella, I simply say. Sorry. You deserved so much better."

The Mayor wrote that he was determined to keep Ella’s memory and legacy alive, by ensuring that London did not repeat the mistakes of the past, "by failing today’s generation of young Londoners".

"Because no child should suffer as Ella did. And no family should have to endure the pain and heartbreak that you have," he continued. "That’s why - not only will I continue doing everything in my power to clean up London’s air, but I’ll also continue putting pressure on the government to do more to prevent further needless suffering and death, including by adopting ‘Ella’s law’. This would make breathing clean air what it should be – a right that must be upheld.”

In a statement, Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah thanked the Mayor for his apology on behalf of the city. But she added: "Nothing will ever make up for the pain and suffering that Ella went through. And nothing will ever make up for the pain and suffering my family has been through since losing her in such circumstances."

She said she remained committed to see the Coroner’s three recommendations become reality, "to stop other children from suffering like Ella did". These included implementing legal air pollution limits into UK law - based on World Health Organisation guidelines.

They also included a public awareness campaign on the dangers of air pollution to human health, and efforts to increase awareness and education in the medical community on the dangers of air pollution to patients. “My family and I will continue to fight for the health of all children and with everyone’s support, one day we will get justice for Ella Roberta," she continued.

The family's claims against various government departs, including Defra - the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs - the Department for Transport (DfT), and the Department of Health and Social Care, are continuing.

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