‘Unforgiveable’: Ella’s mother hits out after Ulez protest at Mayor
The mother of the London schoolgirl whose death was the first to be officially recorded as caused by air pollution has described protests that disrupted a Sadiq Khan event on the South Bank as “unforgiveable”.
The mayor was interrupted throughout an appearance at the Royal Festival Hall on Wednesday night — including when he read an extract from his book, Breathe, about the death of Ella Kissi-Debrah in 2013, which inspired him to clean up the capital’s toxic air.
Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, who was in the audience, heard one man shout that it was “a lie” that air pollution had caused nine-year-old Ella’s death, despite that being the coroner’s finding.
She told the Standard that she challenged one of the protesters outside the hall as he was being spoken to by police. About 10 protesters, objecting to the Ulez expansion, took it in turn to shout at Mr Khan before being removed by security staff. The protests continued throughout the 90-minute ticketed event, with the final protester blowing a whistle repeatedly as he was led away.
LBC presenter James O’Brien, who was hosting the event, warned the protesters that they would be evicted unless they stopped interrupting. He told them their protests had “polluted the commemoration of a grieving mother” and were “beyond despicable”.
The Royal Festival Hall had been closed for several hours in advance of the event for a security sweep, and attendees were searched on entry. But the protesters were still able to take their seats in the centre of the hall.
Mr Khan, asked about the protests and scale of hostility he has faced as mayor, said — to applause from the 1,200-strong audience — that his approach was: “Don’t let the bullies win.”
Ms Adoo-Kissi-Debrah on Thursday tweeted that she had been upset by a man “laughing at Ella’s death”. She said the heckling showed there was “still much to do education-wise” on the dangers of air pollution.
She told the Standard that the protester was “stunned” to be approached by her outside the hall. She said: “I told him I didn’t appreciate him and his cronies laughing when Sadiq mentioned Ella’s death. He apologised profusely and said he never laughed at that. I told him he was guilty by association by the company he keeps.”
She told him he had a right to protest about Ulez but said she would continue to campaign for the expansion to the Greater London boundary, due to happen on August 29, because “every year in London between eight to 12 children under the age of 19” die from asthma.
She added: “Yes, they absolutely have a right to protest, as long as there is no racism or anyone gets hurt. We still live in a democratic country.
“As Ella’s mum, however, I would like them to let her RIP (rest in peace) and remember she has siblings who are still getting used to the idea of living without their sister.”