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‘A slap in the face’: Bereaved families attack COVID report and urge judge-led inquiry

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Families of COVID-19 victims have attacked an MPs’ report into government failings during the pandemic as “laughable” and a “slap in the face” – and say a judicial inquiry is needed to get to the truth.

The report said decisions on lockdowns and social distancing early in the pandemic were “one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced” and cost thousands of lives.

It said “groupthink” among officials meant chances to delay the spread of the virus were missed, and it was a “serious early error” not to lock down sooner.

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Spokesperson for the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, Hannah Brady, said the report is a “slap in the face” for relatives of those who died.

“The report is 122 pages long, but manages to barely mention the over 150,000 bereaved families,” she said.

“Sadly, this is what we expected, as the committee explicitly refused to speak to us or any bereaved families, instead insisting they were only interested in speaking to their colleagues and friends.

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“The report it’s produced is laughable, and more interested in political arguments… than it is in the experiences of those who tragically lost parents, partners or children to COVID-19.

“This is an attempt to ignore and gaslight bereaved families, who will see it as a slap in the face.”

Ms Brady also criticised a passage in the report that said the success of the vaccine rollout had “redeemed many of the persistent failings of other parts of the national response”.

Bereaved people hold photos of loved ones lost to coronavirus (from left, with the names of those who died in brackets) Deborah Doyle (Sylvia Griffiths), Lobby Akinnola (Olufemi Akinnola), Hannah Brady (Shaun Brady/Margaret Brady), Fran Hall (Steve Mead), Jo Goodman (Stuart Goodman), Charlie Williams (Rex Williams), next to the Covid Memorial Wall on the embankment of the River Thames opposite the House of Parliament in central London. Picture date: Tuesday September 28, 2021.
Image: Bereaved families of COVID victims hold pictures of their loved ones last month next to the memorial wall

She said a judge-led inquiry – promised by the prime minister – is vital and must focus on the experiences of families.

“That is the only way that the serious questions, like why families were told their loved ones were not fit for intensive care without medical assessment, or advised by 111 to keep their loved ones at home even in their dying moments, or why there were even more deaths in care homes in the second wave than the first, will be answered,” she said.

It is a plea echoed by Lindsay Jackson, whose mother Sylvia died with the virus in a care home in April 2020.

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Daughter: ‘Protective shield’ was a lie

Ms Jackson told Sky News the report was “cathartic” and “in some way validating” – but confirmed her “worst suspicions about the mistakes that have been made”.

She said: “I don’t know that it tells me anything new, but it definitely confirms my thoughts about things like the slowness of the lockdown, the lack of care for residential homes and people within them, the dreadful discharge of people from hospitals without tests.”

Ms Jackson said “a full judicial inquiry where people are forced to attend, forced to speak under oath” is the only way to get the truth.

“The people who spoke to this inquiry did so willingly, relatively informally… [It] needs to be done properly under the rule of law,” she told Sky News.

She said attempts at apologies from the government were “shabby” and attacked claims by former health secretary Matt Hancock last year that a “protective ring” had been put around care homes in the early stages of the pandemic.

“It was a lie then, it’s a lie now. There was no protective ring,” said Ms Jackson.

“What I read from this review, despite the deaths in the first wave there was only an official committee established to consider the plight of people in social care in June 2020… after many thousands of people passed away.”

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Minister declines 11 times to say sorry

Earlier, a government minister refused to apologise 11 times for the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Cabinet Office minister Stephen Barclay told Sky News’ Kay Burley: “We followed, throughout, the scientific advice. We got the vaccine deployed extremely quickly, we protected our NHS from the surge of cases.

“Of course, if there are lessons to learn we’re keen to do so.”

Asked again if he would be apologising in the wake of the report, Mr Barclay replied: “Well no, we followed the scientific advice, we protected the NHS, we took the decisions based on the evidence before us.

“But of course, we’ve always said with something so unprecedented as the pandemic, there will be lessons to learn, we’re keen to learn them.”

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January: ‘It’s hard to compute the sorrow’

Boris Johnson said earlier this year that he took “full responsibility for everything that has happened” and was “truly sorry for the suffering the people of this country have experienced”.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the prime minister should “address the families, apologise and bring forward the public inquiry just as quickly as possible”.

“My thoughts are with the families who’ve lost people because of these failures by the government,” he said.