The inquest was told that there were three main possible sources of E. coli: food, travel and animals. The coroner determined that the owner most likely acquired E. coli from handling the cat or cleaning its litter box.
There is no indication why this conclusion was reached, and it seems to be a rather strange conclusion based on the reported information. There is no reported evidence that the same strain of E. coli was even present in the cat. I suspect that they are blaming the cat because there is no other obvious source (e.g. an identified foodborne outbreak of E. coli). I doubt the cat played any role in this person’s illness.
The risk of contracting E. coli from contact with a cat is very low. However, common sense should be used when handling cats and particularly cat stool. The most important measures are avoiding contact with stool and appropriate hand washing after handling a cat or its litter. More information about litter box management is available on the Worms & Germs Resources page.