Families in Scotland who lost loved ones to Covid-19 have questioned the credibility of an inquiry reviewing the Scottish Government’s response to the pandemic on its first day.
Proceedings started on Wednesday with a presentation in Dundee by public health physician Dr Ashley Croft, who talked about the scientific and medical understanding of the virus as it existed in late 2019 and how it developed up to the end of 2022.
Members of the Scottish Covid Bereaved group who attended were said to be “bewildered” by the choice of Dr Croft as first speaker of the inquiry, however, having previously raised concerns about him being led as an expert witness.
Lawyer Aamer Anwar, who is representing the group, highlighted a High Court judgment which reportedly described Dr Croft as providing “flawed, unreliable” and “unconvincing” evidence and displaying “a cavalier approach to important evidence”.
Pointing out that no respects were paid to the many people who lost their lives during the pandemic during the presentation either, Mr Anwar described the inquiry’s start on Wednesday as “embarrassing” and “deeply disrespectful”.
“For the inquiry to start with this witness gives cause for the bereaved to question the credibility and robustness of this inquiry,” he said.
“In the last year the Scottish inquiry has spent nearly £8m, so the very least the families were entitled to expect was a gold-plated, robust and fearless inquiry, no different to the UK inquiry,
“Sadly, their experience has been the exact opposite.
“The families we represent were told by the Scottish Government, then the first chair who resigned, followed by Lord Brailsford, that they would be front and centre of this public inquiry – that has not happened.
“It is deeply disrespectful that the inquiry started today without even paying their respects to those who lost their lives to Covid.
“It is shameful and retraumatising for the bereaved to see this inquiry teetering on the edge of a cliff with an embarrassing and shambolic start.
“Whilst the UK inquiry can tell the public the dates that hearings will take place for the year in advance, the Scottish inquiry was unable to tell the bereaved what is happening a month away.”
The UK inquiry has already heard from senior ministers south of the border such as Nick Hancock, Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove, as well as former first minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon and her former deputy John Swinney.
Mr Anwar added: “The Covid bereaved, and the people of Scotland, deserve better, after all they have watched world class experts deliver evidence at the UK inquiry.
“The bereaved refuse to be passive spectators, the families previously lost confidence in the inquiry headed by Lady Poole (but) sadly, today’s start appears deeply flawed, disrespectful, basic and a betrayal of the promises made to them.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish Covid Inquiry responded: “Prior to commencing hearings, the Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry considered it appropriate to explore the scientific position at the relevant time. We instructed Dr Croft to provide an account of this.
“Dr Croft is a public health physician and epidemiologist who has undertaken and published extensive research on a wide range of public health issues including issues relating to Covid-19.
“Dr Croft’s report was commissioned to form the basis for future discussion in the inquiry and to provide some scientific context for the work to follow. His report will sit alongside other existing academic research the inquiry has received and will receive in future, covering specific areas in more detail.
“As is the case with all commissioned advice and research, the chair to the inquiry will have regard to all relevant material. He will assess it and afford it the weight he considers appropriate in all the circumstances.
“The views of this, or any expert commissioned by the inquiry, do not represent the concluded views of the inquiry. Core participants will have an opportunity to apply to the inquiry for questions they may wish to put to Dr Croft with regard to his presentation.”
The spokesperson added: “The inquiry acknowledges the deep impact Covid-19 has had on everyone in Scotland.
“The inquiry’s preliminary hearing, to take place at the end of August, will feature a formal and lasting recognition of the suffering caused by the pandemic, in the form of a short film.
“The inquiry is grateful to bereaved families, care home relatives and others impacted by Covid who contributed to the making of this film.”