Covid bereaved demand public inquiry and end to âpolitical pantomimeâ
Boris Johnson is facing a growing clamour to bring forward the start of the coronavirus public inquiry after relatives of the pandemicâs victims said Dominic Cummingsâ allegations had started a âpolitical pantomimeâ that disrespected those who had died.
The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, which represents thousands of grieving people, called for an urgent start to the inquiry, which is due to begin in spring 2022.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) joined the call, alongside Lord Kerslake, the former head of the civil service under David Cameron, Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, and Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats.
On Wednesday, Cummings, Johnsonâs former chief adviser, accused the government of being woefully underprepared for the pandemic during seven hours of evidence to MPs, and said Hancock had told repeated lies, leading to tens of thousands of avoidable deaths.
Many of the bereaved found Cummingsâ litany of claims traumatic and argued that such detailed evidence should be handled in a properly structured public inquiry.
âThis political pantomime continues to show a level of disrespect to our lost loved ones and brings us no closer to the answers we need for lives to be saved,â said Matt Fowler, co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice.
Their view was fuelled by the response of Matt Hancock, the health secretary, who told the House of Commons on Thursday that âunsubstantiated allegations around honesty are not trueâ. Boris Johnson said some claims he had heard did not âbear any relation to realityâ.
Kerslake told the Guardian: âWe are either going to carry on with this tit-for-tat briefing or we get to grips with the job. We owe it to the families of the bereaved. Itâs down to the prime minister. He has to see the sense of doing it early.â
Cummings had also told MPs: âThe idea that any kind of serious inquiry and lessons learned doesnât start until next year is completely terrible. Tens of thousands of people died who didnât need to die.â
The bereaved are coordinating with workersâ and health expertsâ organisations to draw up a list of issues the inquiry needs to consider. The government has failed to respond to their lawyerâs request for talks with officials tasked with setting up the inquiry.
Nurses also weighed in, saying that âjustice delayed is justice deniedâ. The RCN said Cummingsâ testimony confirmed the need for âa full public inquiry, without delay, into the preparation for and management of Covid-19â.
âThat is the only way the government, its agencies and advisers will reflect and learn,â said Dave Dawes, chair of the RCN Council. âThe inquiry must examine the decisions made at UK government level and by nations too.â
Davey wrote to the prime minister on Thursday saying âwe need [the inquiry] nowâ. âThe chaotic mess of claims, counter-claims, anonymous WhatsApp briefings and cryptic Twitter threads is not the way to establish the truth that the British people â and bereaved families in particular â deserve,â he said.04:49 Voices of the Covid bereaved: 'Our loved ones aren't just a number' âÂ video
This month Johnson told parliament that an inquiry would start in spring 2022 but said it would be wrong to âweigh downâ scientific advisers and take up âhuge amounts of officialsâ timeâ during the pandemic.
A government spokesperson said on Wednesday that it would happen âas soon as is reasonably possibleâ and on Thursday, Robert Jenrick, the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, said next year was âthe right moment at which to consider these things in a calm and reflective mannerâ.
Labour is pushing for a more rapid inquiry. Rayner said: âWe need that public inquiry and we need it immediately and for it not to be delayed. We need to learn the lessons â¦ and people need to be confident we have learned those lessons.â
Safiah Ngah, who lost her 68-year-old father, Zahari Ngah, to Covid in February, said: âWe can prevent deaths happening next winter if we take the time now to launch the public inquiry.â
She believes the delay in locking down before Christmas caused the death of her father, an NHS psychotherapist for 40 years. He was shielding but contracted Covid in early January. Though he was in good health, her father ended up in intensive care at University College Hospital, London, which he found terrifying.
âIt was the peak of the second wave and people were dying around him and he was listening to that every day,â said his daughter. âIf there is any argument for a more urgent inquiry it is to prevent that happening to more people. Itâs not just that he was only 68, itâs that his last three weeks must have been absolute hell.â
âIf we can prevent this happening to more people, why wouldnât we do that?â she added. âIt doesnât make any sense.âRebecca Jones and her sister, Jenny Davies, lost their father to Covid on 1 March. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian
Rebecca Jones, the daughter of Gareth Jones, a retired head teacher who died with Covid on 1Â March 2021, said Cummingsâ testimony about the governmentâs âshambolic handling of the pandemic only confirms that the public inquiry must start nowâ.
âWe think the lockdown came too late and if it had been earlier my dad would still be here,â she said. âThere was a series of government decisions that led to this suffering. We donât want any other families to suffer this which is why we want a public inquiry sooner rather than later.
âIt is a tragedy what happened to us and so many families and vital lessons must be learned so this isnât repeated. With the uncertainty with the Indian variant, I donât understand why as a government you wouldnât be doing everything in your power to protect people.â