In a landmark case, H.M. Assistant Coroner for Inner South London, Philip Barlow, today concluded that Ella died at 9 years of age from acute respiratory failure, asthma and “air pollution exposure”. This is the first time that a Coroner has found that air pollution was a contributory cause of illness and death. This finding will have far-reaching consequences “for other people and other cases” as acknowledged by the Coroner, and once again highlights the need for further action from governments around the world to reduce dangerous levels of air pollution.
The Coroner’s findings mark a culmination of tireless campaigning by Ella’s family since her death in 2013, to bring attention to the critical issue of air pollution and its impact on human health, especially among the vulnerable and children.
The case, which had included proceedings to quash the original verdict of the Court which had not investigated the issue of air pollution, has been widely reported. Following the emergence of new evidence, in particular the expert analysis of Professor Sir Stephen Holgate who concluded that Ella’s asthma was exacerbated by high levels of air pollution around the area in which Ella lived and went to school, the second inquest focussed on whether air pollution caused or contributed to Ella’s illness and death and what steps could have been taken to mitigate its impact.
Following a two-week inquest, which included detailed factual and medical expert evidence the Coroner concluded that air pollution made a “material contribution” to Ella’s death as a “significant contributory factor to both the induction and exacerbations of her asthma.” He also recorded that “Ella's mother was not given information about the health risks of air pollution and its potential to exacerbate asthma”.
The Coroner’s reasons included a detailed and careful analysis of the evidence concerning what steps were taken by national and local governments to address air pollution levels, notwithstanding knowledge in the mid-2000s that emissions were higher than expected and liable to affect human health.
The UK’s breaches of air quality legislation have given rise to three sets of proceedings (summaries can be found here, here and here) by the NGO, ClientEarth, which resulted in Court orders quashing the national Air Quality Plans and requiring urgent corrective action.
Ravi Mehta acted on behalf of the Family at the Inquest, led by Richard Hermer QC and alongside Adam Straw, instructed by Hodge Jones & Allen, and previously acted for ClientEarth in their second and third claim.
The Record of Inquest is available here.