In legal first, coroner finds Ella’s death was caused by air pollution


The landmark finding made Ella the first person in the United Kingdom to have air pollution listed as a cause of death. Lawyers say it might also be a world-first, with major implications for government policy.

Ella died in the early hours of February 15, 2013 after a massive asthma attack triggered cardiac arrest. In the three years prior she had suffered seizures and was admitted to hospital 27 times.

A 2014 inquest found her death was the result of acute respiratory failure, but the High Court overturned that ruling last year once new evidence emerged about air pollution in London.

Deputy Coroner Philip Barlow presided over a new two-week inquest and on Wednesday ruled Ella’s death was caused by acute respiratory failure, severe asthma and air pollution exposure.

“Air pollution was a significant contributory factor to both the induction and exacerbations of her asthma,” Barlow said.

“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 Organisation guidelines. The principal source of her exposure was traffic emissions.”

Barlow said there was a “recognised failure” to reduce pollution within European and domestic law which “possibly contributed to her death”. He also said Ella’s mother was never given information about the health risks of air pollution and its potential to exacerbate her daughter’s asthma.

“If she had been given this information she would have taken steps which might have prevented Ella’s death.”

Air pollution is estimated to cause up to seven million deaths around the globe each year but Ella will be the first victim in Britain to have it listed on a death certificate. Legal experts believe the case will put pressure on governments and councils to do more or risk lawsuits.

Respiratory disease professor Sir Stephen Holgate told the inquest Ella was a “canary in a coalmine” and governments had failed to fix what they have long known was a major problem.

A report he authored in 2018 found levels of pollution at a monitoring station 1.6 kilometres from Ella’s Lewisham home had consistently breached lawful limits in the years before the young girl’s death.

London mayor Sadiq Khan said the ruling “must be a turning point” in clean air policy.

“This is a landmark moment and is thanks to the years of tireless campaigning by Ella’s mother Rosamund, who has shown an extraordinary amount of courage,” he said.

“Toxic air pollution is a public health crisis, especially for our children, and the inquest underlined yet again the importance of pushing ahead with bold policies such as expanding the ultra-low emissions zone to inner London.”

Sarah Woolnough, the chief executive of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, called on the government to craft an urgent plan to protect citizens: “Today’s verdict sets the precedent for a seismic shift in the pace and extent to which the government, local authorities and clinicians must now work together to tackle the country’s air pollution health crisis.”

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah has been campaigning for the truth since her daughter died.

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah thanked the coroner for his findings: “Seven million people around the world die every year courtesy of air pollution. Yes this was about my daughter getting air pollution on the death certificate, which we finally have and we’ve got the justice for her which she so deserved.

“But this is also about other children still who are walking around our city with high levels of pollution. And I hope you heard what the coroner said – that there are still illegal levels of pollution now as we speak. So this matter is far from over.”

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In legal first, coroner finds Ella’s death was caused by air pollution


The landmark finding made Ella the first person in the United Kingdom to have air pollution listed as a cause of death. Lawyers say it might also be a world-first, with major implications for government policy.

Ella died in the early hours of February 15, 2013 after a massive asthma attack triggered cardiac arrest. In the three years prior she had suffered seizures and was admitted to hospital 27 times.

A 2014 inquest found her death was the result of acute respiratory failure, but the High Court overturned that ruling last year once new evidence emerged about air pollution in London.

Deputy Coroner Philip Barlow presided over a new two-week inquest and on Wednesday ruled Ella’s death was caused by acute respiratory failure, severe asthma and air pollution exposure.

“Air pollution was a significant contributory factor to both the induction and exacerbations of her asthma,” Barlow said.

“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 Organisation guidelines. The principal source of her exposure was traffic emissions.”

Barlow said there was a “recognised failure” to reduce pollution within European and domestic law which “possibly contributed to her death”. He also said Ella’s mother was never given information about the health risks of air pollution and its potential to exacerbate her daughter’s asthma.

“If she had been given this information she would have taken steps which might have prevented Ella’s death.”

Air pollution is estimated to cause up to seven million deaths around the globe each year but Ella will be the first victim in Britain to have it listed on a death certificate. Legal experts believe the case will put pressure on governments and councils to do more or risk lawsuits.

Respiratory disease professor Sir Stephen Holgate told the inquest Ella was a “canary in a coalmine” and governments had failed to fix what they have long known was a major problem.

A report he authored in 2018 found levels of pollution at a monitoring station 1.6 kilometres from Ella’s Lewisham home had consistently breached lawful limits in the years before the young girl’s death.

London mayor Sadiq Khan said the ruling “must be a turning point” in clean air policy.

“This is a landmark moment and is thanks to the years of tireless campaigning by Ella’s mother Rosamund, who has shown an extraordinary amount of courage,” he said.

“Toxic air pollution is a public health crisis, especially for our children, and the inquest underlined yet again the importance of pushing ahead with bold policies such as expanding the ultra-low emissions zone to inner London.”

Sarah Woolnough, the chief executive of Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, called on the government to craft an urgent plan to protect citizens: “Today’s verdict sets the precedent for a seismic shift in the pace and extent to which the government, local authorities and clinicians must now work together to tackle the country’s air pollution health crisis.”

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah has been campaigning for the truth since her daughter died.

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah has been campaigning for the truth since her daughter died.

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah thanked the coroner for his findings: “Seven million people around the world die every year courtesy of air pollution. Yes this was about my daughter getting air pollution on the death certificate, which we finally have and we’ve got the justice for her which she so deserved.

“But this is also about other children still who are walking around our city with high levels of pollution. And I hope you heard what the coroner said – that there are still illegal levels of pollution now as we speak. So this matter is far from over.”

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Rugby Australia boss Rob Clarke backs Gary Ella’s call to boost Indigenous pathways


Three years ago in the same building, Beale took part in an impromptu corroboree but this time sent a video message from Paris.

The First Nations jersey has been worn three times – against New Zealand in 2017 in Brisbane, against England in 2018 at Twickenham, and against Uruguay at the World Cup last year – but there are no Indigenous representatives in this year’s Wallabies squad.

It begs the question: who will become the 15th Indigenous player to don a Wallabies jersey? Whoever it is will follow in the footsteps of legends Lloyd McDermott, the Ella Brothers and Andrew Walker.

“[Andy] Muirhead from the Brumbies is playing quite well at the moment … he’s one that comes to mind,” Ella said. “I think he was pretty unlucky to miss the squad.

“On the jersey it has the 14 big circles and that represents the 14 players. We want more [Indigenous] Wallabies playing so we can get a new design with a couple more circles on it as well. We want about 20 of those in the next couple of years.”

While rugby league and Australian rules football churn out Indigenous stars with comparative ease, rugby is under-represented. Ella, while acknowledging improvements had been made, wants to see more stars of tomorrow nurtured.

We’re gradually introducing the game to more Aboriginal communities around Australia.

Gary Ella

“One of the things we do need is to run more programs, we need to target a few more programs,” Ella said. “It was always very difficult to get into the rugby community but that’s been broken down quite a bit.

“We’ve had a good relationship which is getting stronger each year with Rugby Australia. We’re gradually introducing the game to more Aboriginal communities around Australia. Now they’re seeing rugby offers just as much [as league].”

RA invested heavily in its ‘Dream Big Time’ program last year, when scouts went to all parts of the country to unearth Indigenous talent. Clarke and RA chairman Hamish McLennan conceded more could be done.

“It’s critically important and I think we can do a lot better as Gary said,” Clarke said. “There’s a lot of work we’ve done to try and harness the extreme talent that exists out there for sport among the Indigenous community and rugby needs to do a better job and we’ll do that with additional programs in the coming years.”

McLennan added: “It shows we’ve got to open up more player pathways for Indigenous rugby players. What it also says is we’re very committed to an inclusive culture and very proud of our Aboriginal Indigenous heritage and we’re going to promote it proudly.”

Meanwhile, Haylett-Petty was asked whether the Wallabies would discuss dropping a knee for the Bledisloe match, in a sign of solidarity against racially motivated violence around the world.

“I obviously can’t speak for everyone but I think it would be a great show of support … we’d definitely consider it,” he said.

Haylett-Petty, who is hoping to be available for the Wallabies’ next match, agreed Australian rugby “needs more Kurtley Beales”.

“So many talented athletes, we see them dominating AFL and NRL, and I think it’d be great to see more and more come through and wear the Wallabies jersey,” he said.

The jersey will also be worn against Argentina on December 5 at Bankwest Stadium and Ella is expecting plenty of mates to come out of the woodwork for both Test weeks.

“A lot of my Indigenous mates get really excited about it. All I cop all week is, ‘when are you going to get me a jersey?’” Ella said.

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“The jersey is special. Every time it’s put on, a lot of the people I talk to, their eyes light up. We like to think rugby is now being more inclusive than it’s ever been and possibly as much as any other sport that is being played in Australia.”

Rugby Championship fixtures

October 31: Australia v New Zealand at ANZ Stadium (Indigenous jersey will be worn)
November 7: Australia v New Zealand at Suncorp Stadium
November 14: New Zealand v Argentina at Bankwest Stadium
November 21: Argentina v Australia at McDonald Jones Stadium
November 28: Argentina v New Zealand at McDonald Jones Stadium
December 5: Australia v Argentina at Bankwest Stadium (Indigenous jersey will be worn)

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