High Court claim against air pollution death

Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, whose daughter Ella’s death had air pollution recognised as a factor, is bringing a High Court claim against the government on her right to clean air.

Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, who spoke at the Transport + Energy Forum last year, is making the move after a 2020 coroner’s verdict found that air pollution had made a “material contribution” to her daughter’s death from a fatal asthma attack in 2013.

According to the coroner Philip Barlow, Ella suffered the asthma attack after being exposed to air pollution from the south circular road, which she lived only 25 metres away from. The levels of NO2 near her property exceeded World Health Organisation and EU guidelines.

Health impact

In an interview at the T+E Forum, Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, WHO BreatheLife Ambassador and Founder/Director of the Ella Roberta Foundation appealed to the government to invest in public transport and promote alternative active travel, “clinging onto petrol and diesel cars is only going to impact on our health at the other end.”

She believes that the UK is in a public health crisis: “As I stand here today, 7.74m people are on the NHS waiting list. We know that air pollution impacts every organ in our bodies. We have to lower emissions.”

She argues that the costs of transition will be more than offset by public health savings made by the NHS.

In conversation with motoring journalist and Faircharge UK founder Quentin Willson, she added that we all take breathing for granted. She explained: “Without the illegal levels of air pollution, she wouldn’t have got asthma at all, and she wouldn’t have died that fateful night when the pollution levels were so high.”

New claim

Now, she has planned a High Court claim against three government departments – the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for Transport, and Department of Health and Social Care – which is focused on “seeking vindication for the death of Ella”, her lawyers said, rather than for financial compensation.

Her lawyers said it was “no ordinary personal injury claim” and the “wider significance of the claim is obvious”. Should the claim be successful, it would be the first to establish a right to clean air under the Human Rights Act.

The government has denied its actions “amount to a breach of human rights” and also denies if an alleged breach was proven that it would be “causative of Ella’s injuries and death”.

Image of Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah from the T+E Forum

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