Coronavirus victims' relatives want public inquiry into slow lockdown

Around 1,000 grieving relatives of coronavirus victims are preparing legal action to force a public inquiry after accusing the government of ‘gambling’ with lives by failing to lock down ‘fast enough’

  • Relatives say that ministers failed to lock down the UK quickly enough
  • They are calling for investigation into PPE shortages and the flawed testing regime
  • Professor Neil Ferguson said locking down a week earlier would have halved the death toll

Families  who’ve lost loved ones to coronavirus are preparing legal action against the Government over claims they would not have died had ministers locked down the country sooner.

Around 1,000 grieving relatives say the Government ‘gambled’ with people’s lives when they failed to act quickly enough or heed the warnings from other countries as Covid-19 tore across Europe.

They also want an investigation into the flawed testing regime, the levels of protective clothing that was available and other issues surrounding planning for the pandemic.

The group has engaged lawyers for advice, are petitioning for a public inquiry and have demanded a meeting with the Prime Minister and Health Secretary.

Around 1,000 grieving relatives say ministers ‘gambled’ with lives by failing to lock down quickly enough or heed warnings from other countries

Jo Goodman, spokesman for the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, whose father, Stuart, 72, contracted the virus the week before lockdown and died on April 2, said she was ‘appalled’ that the Government had so far ‘blanked’ their request to meet.

She said relatives were bereft by the lack of empathy or support from Whitehall and want ministers to launch an interim inquiry, ahead of a full public inquiry into the pandemic. ‘The Government must learn lessons, and quickly, to prevent more deaths should the predicted second wave hit the UK later in the year,’ she said.

If the Government refuses calls for a public inquiry, lawyers representing the families say they are prepared to challenge the decision via a judicial review at the High Court.

Among those in the group include Jane Smith, 67, a supply teacher who lost her husband of almost 30 years Godfrey ‘Gof’ Smith, 71, in April. The businessman and former paramedic caught the virus from a disabled friend just days before Boris Johnson ordered the lockdown on March 23 and died on April 4.

His supply teacher widow, Jane, 67, told the Mail: ‘If the Government had locked down a week or two earlier Gof would still be alive. I would like somebody to say, ‘we got it wrong.’ I know there wasn’t an A to Z of how to deal with coronavirus but I’m worried that (without an inquiry) the powers that be we won’t learn from it. Nobody can hurt me anymore, the virus has taken the best thing in my life, but so many other people could also lose a loved one in the second wave and I don’t want anyone to feel the way I do.

‘This is life and death, there’s nothing more serious. For God’s sake, we must learn from what’s happened. The Government should have the courtesy of meeting with us to discuss our experiences. They need to show us a bit of respect and empathy.’

Paralegal Hannah Brady, 24, agreed lessons needed to be learnt from the near 44,000 lives lost in the UK. Her father, Shaun, 55, who had no underlying health conditions and visited the gym three times a week, spent 42 nights fighting Covi-19 in intensive care before doctors told Miss Brady and her younger sister, Tasha, 22, that there was nothing more they could do. He died hours after they turned off his life support, on May 16.

Professor Neil Ferguson (pictured) has said introducing the restrictions just a week earlier would have halved the death toll

‘My dad’s death was needless,’ Miss Brady said. ‘We should have had him for another 30 years, he was taken before his time. For the Government not to respond to our petition or desire to meet is disgusting. This isn’t politically motivated, if we had lost 44,000 people to Covid-19 under a Labour government I would be doing the same thing. We are trying to use our pain and grief, which is so raw, to save lives in a second wave. We are content to wait for a full scale inquiry but we need an urgent one in the interim, not to apportion blame, but to see what we got wrong, so it is not repeated.’

Professor Neil Ferguson, a senior member of the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage) until he was forced to step down for flouting lockdown measures in May, has already claimed that introducing them just a week earlier would have cut the number of people dying by at least half.

And just last week the UK’s top health leaders, including presidents of the Royal College of Physicians, Surgeons, GPs and Nursing, and the chair of the British Medical Association, also asked for a review of the first stage of the pandemic to learn lessons, including why black, Asian, and minority ethnic communities have borne a ‘disproportionate burden’.

Miss Goodman, whose father was a former photographer and picture editor, said the easing of the pandemic and the scenes of huge crowds gathering on the country’s beaches and at outdoor raves, apparently flouting social distancing rules, was ‘difficult to stomach’ while the virus still posed a danger and people were dying daily.

She added: ‘The Government gambled with people’s lives when they failed to lockdown the country quickly enough in March. Everyone could see what was happening in Italy and Spain, but we were still being told it was safe to go out as normal.

‘They have no respect for the bereaved families. They have ignored our request for a meeting and have only this week sent us a cursory acknowledgment of our petition.

‘They don’t want any attention on the scale of the loss of life. They say they are prepared for the second wave because they have mothballed the Nightingale hospitals – it’s as if they are saying it’s okay, so long as they have beds for people to die in.

‘Every day the Government offers condolences to those who have been bereaved, but while it is unwilling to engage with us, it is very difficult to accept its sympathy.’

The families’ petition suggests a full public inquiry must consider the timing of the UK lockdown on 23 March, which was later than almost all European countries; the state of the Government stockpile of personal protective equipment and testing capacity; the response to warnings in the 2017 Exercise Cygnus report that the UK was not adequately prepared for a pandemic; the disproportionately high number of black and minority ethnic people who have died from Covid-19; the transfer of patients from hospitals to care homes and several other key issues.

Solicitor Elkan Abrahamson, of Broudie Jackson Canter, who worked with the Hillsborough families and is representing the Covid-19 bereaved, said that while they were prepared to wait for a full public inquiry, an interim review was needed now, ahead of a predicted second wave.

He added that meeting relatives should be the Government’s first step to acknowledging their grief and suffering.

‘The Government is constantly saying that they are aware that each death represents an individual tragedy and a grieving family; why then will they not agree to meet?’ Mr Abrahamson said. 

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