Covid bereaved to meet ministers over future public inquiry

Scottish branch of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Group want an assurance 'their voices would be heard'.

Covid bereaved to meet ministers over future public inquiry Dan Kitwood / Staff via Getty Images
Woman writing message on Covid memorial wall in London.

Families who lost loved ones to Covid will meet with Scottish ministers later on Tuesday to discuss a future public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic.

Members of the Scottish branch of the UK-wide Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group are set to hold talks with Deputy first minister John Swinney and health secretary Humza Yousaf in Edinburgh.

Bereaved families said last month it feels like mistakes made last summer are being repeated. They are calling for a public inquiry to start urgently so that lessons are learned in time to save lives.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said an independent public inquiry with statutory powers into the handling of the coronavirus pandemic will begin in spring 2022.

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But families who lost loved ones during the pandemic have called for a separate inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of the crisis.

Ahead of this year’s Holyrood election, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said a Covid public inquiry was a “priority” for the SNP. She wants a four-nations inquiry into the pandemic by the end of the year.

The UK Government has dismissed the idea of any separate judge-led inquiry into the handling of the pandemic in Scotland

Scotland Office minister Iain Stewart said in June: “I don’t think, at this stage certainly, there is a need for a separate inquiry.

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“We’re still at the very early stages of establishing the remit of the UK-wide one, which will cover both reserved and devolved matters.

“I think it’s important that that inquiry does look at all aspects of the situation. We should also remind ourselves that this is an unprecedented challenge that governments right across the world have faced.”

The Scottish branch of the justice group is being represented by human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar, who wrote to the Scottish Government requesting a meeting with family members bereaved after losing a relative to the virus.

Anwar said: “Ministers will be told that any inquiry set up must retain the confidence of the Scottish families and an assurance that their voices would be heard.

“No family should ever have to go through the burden of losing a loved one and then to find that the legal system fails them, compounded by a delay upon delay in an independent investigation of a death.

“The Scottish Parliament voted for an inquiry and it was in the SNP mandate to have an inquiry, however if a UK-only inquiry goes ahead, the families we represent want to ensure there is a full and proper inquiry that takes on board the concerns of the Scottish families.

“Scottish families must be seen as core-participants in any Covid inquiry and any attempt to side-line the families would impact on the credibility and integrity of that inquiry.”

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Earlier this year, a damning report from the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, commissioned by the World Health Organisation, said a quicker international response could have stopped the 2019 Covid-19 outbreak in China becoming a global catastrophe.

There has been a total of 10,421 deaths registered in Scotland where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate as of August 8.

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Annie Wells said: “Thousands of grieving families across Scotland deserve immediate answers over the death of their loved ones.

“The SNP must honour their manifesto commitment, instead of continuing to stall on getting an inquiry up and running. 

“Anything less than a Scottish specific inquiry would shamefully let down families all over again. It is time for the SNP to ensure they will learn from the appalling mistakes they made during the Covid crisis.”