Mum of Forest Hill girl who died of asthma living by South Circular Road tells how little she knew of the dangers

The mum of a girl who died amid regular asthma attacks while living yards from the traffic-clogged South Circular Road has revealed how little she knew about the pollution danger and how to avoid it.

Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah gave evidence at the Coroner’s Court in Southwark on the sixth day of the inquest into the death in 2013 of her nine year-old daughter Ella.

For more than 7 years, Rosamund has been searching for an explanation of what caused her daughter’s condition, suffering, and untimely death.

She told the inquest how Ella was born a healthy child and was well until she was six years old in 2010. Ella was lively. She was an exuberant, gifted, and talented child. She enjoyed swimming and dancing, she played football and several instruments, and loved to entertain and encourage her younger siblings.

But when Ella’s health deteriorated, there were repeated trips to the hospital, and countless tests which came back negative. There was coughing, wheezing, and vomiting, and there were seizures. Rosamund felt helpless in the face of a medical mystery experts could not seem to solve, and Ella was afraid that she was going to die without knowing why.

Ella had lived all her life about 25 metres from the South Circular Road. Rosamund explained to the court that there was permanent traffic by her house, and car fumes were a constant in Ella’s daily patterns of travel to and from her extracurricular activities, pre-school, and primary school.

When she first fell ill in 2010, Ella was diagnosed with an upper respiratory tract infection and given asthma medication. Rosamund recalled how Ella fought for 28 months against her condition. All the while, doctors and specialists struggled to identify the cause of her seizures.

Rosamund is thankful to the medical professionals who cared for her child and did their best with the information they had.

Recalling what information she personally had regarding air pollution during Ella’s lifetime, Rosamund explained to the court she knew little about the dangers of air pollution, the high levels in her area or the steps she could take to minimise exposure to toxic air pollution.

Air pollution was never discussed at any of the multiple specialist consultations that they attended to try and manage Ella’s condition. Despite actively searching for help during the three years of Ella’s illness, she was never made aware of various initiatives, such as airTEXT – a free service providing high pollution alerts.

Closing her remarks to the court, Rosamund said: “I need to find out for myself why she died and what the causes are, I need this for my other children in order to protect their health. I also believe there is a public interest in examining her death because if this direct link were made then the health of our children would have to be prioritised over considerations including the convenience of drivers. I do not think that I can grieve properly about the loss of Ella until I get to the bottom of this.

“Giving evidence today and reliving the details of Ella’s death was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, but it’s so important, as her mother, that I get Ella’s voice heard and tell the world what she went through and how she suffered. I hope that way, we can do her justice by understanding better how she died.”

Rosamund’s lawyer and friend of the family, Jocelyn Cockburn, added: “The inquest has heard a lot of detailed and scientific evidence about air pollution, but this morning Rosamund, in bravely retelling her account of Ella’s last few years, has described a very human story of suffering behind the statistics. Despite the fact that air pollution has been recognised as a public health emergency the day-to-day impact of air pollution on the health of millions of people, including children, is still poorly understood even by the clinicians treating patients for conditions affected by air pollution. If this inquest does one thing, it should ensure that this issue can no longer be overlooked”

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