For families whose loved ones died due to Covid-19, and who have been asking the government to conduct a public investigation for more than a year, Boris Johnson’s announcement of a legal investigation that will begin next year was a bittersweet milestone. Jo Goodman, whose father, Stuart, 72, died last April, and who co-founded the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group almost exactly a year ago, said his campaign had been vindicated, but the battle with the government had them. has caused. “Trauma over trauma” and left a legacy of mistrust.
While the announcement was “a great relief,” the group warned that the investigation was starting too late and called on the government to involve bereaved families in key decision-making, including the election of the president and the terms of reference for the investigation. Elkan Abrahamson, a Liverpool-based attorney who has worked for free on behalf of the group, first wrote to Johnson on June 11 last year, calling for a swift public investigation and naming 56 bereaved families. The group emphasized the need for an immediate “quick review” investigation, so that lessons could be learned to avoid a second wave of the virus. Goodman said it was devastating for families to see thousands more die in the winter, and the group still believes the investigation should begin immediately.
“In that first letter, we raised a lot of issues, including the discharge of people from the hospital to nursing homes, the adequacy of testing and tracing, the timing of closure, that were not resolved by the second wave,” Goodman said. . “The grieving families had experienced other problems, such as inadequate counseling from the NHS 111 service and infected people in hospitals. But the government refused to conduct a quick investigation, and Boris Johnson refused to receive us, and it was terrible to see so many people die and families suffer. “
As of Wednesday, the government had consistently refused to commit to a formal legal investigation, while saying there would be some kind of investigation, but never specifying when it would happen. The government did not even respond to the families’ initial letter for five weeks, despite a reminder. When it arrived, the response was not from Johnson or Health Secretary Matt Hancock, but from a senior official, Lee McDonough of the Department of Health and Welfare. Last July, he laid out what effectively has remained the government’s position until this week: “At some point in the future there will be an opportunity… to look back, reflect, and learn lessons. However, for the moment, the important thing is to focus on responding to the current pandemic. “
The families had requested a meeting with Johnson and Hancock, but McDonough said they were too busy dealing with the pandemic to do so. Abrahamson and the group’s attorney, Pete Weatherby QC, who also works pro bono, warned the government that it can request a judicial review of its refusal to conduct an investigation, arguing that it has a legal obligation to do so under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. That requires an “effective investigation” when people have died in circumstances where the state had a duty to safeguard their lives.
The government responded by rejecting the argument that article 2 had been violated or that an immediate legal investigation was necessary to learn lessons, and refused to agree to waive its own legal costs if the group requested a judicial review. That forced families to seek crowdfunding and apply for charitable grants, and they raised £ 50,000 to support the need to pay government legal costs if they went ahead with a legal challenge. The recent story, denied by Downing Street, that Johnson said in November that he would rather “let the bodies pile up by the thousands” than order another lockdown caused families more distress.
“For us it has been trauma after trauma,” Goodman said. “Our loved ones died from this virus in circumstances that we believe were preventable. So we have had to put our pain on hold and fight for the truth and the answers. It has been one more trauma to be fooled and ignored, and our sensitive investigation request rejected, until now.
“The group has grown to 4,000 members and it is amazing to finally see this announcement; my mom and I cried a little when we heard the news. But because of the way they treated us, we still feel suspicious and insist that we must be fully involved, including in the election of the president and the areas that the investigation will address. “
Leshie Chandrapala, whose father, Ranjith, a London bus driver, died from the virus last May, said he had suffered “absolute hell on earth” due to his loss, and then having to fight for details on his working conditions on buses during the pandemic, and his death being accepted as a workplace fatality. He said it was vital for families to be “involved and consulted” in the investigation from the beginning.
“I don’t know what ‘coping’ means anymore,” Chandrapala said. “I am doing my best because my father raised me to be responsible, honest and not let people down. However, doing so alongside grieving a pandemic and campaigning is creating a huge mental health time bomb that will undoubtedly explode when this is all over. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism