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Bereaved families of Covid dead deserve say in inquiry

Campaigns push for role in oversight of ministers’ decisions

BEREAVED families of loved ones killed by Covid-19 are demanding a voice in the government’s upcoming public inquiry over Britain’s pandemic response. 

John’s Campaign and the Relatives and Residents Association (R&RA), which both represent bereaved relatives of care home residents who died during the crisis, are seeking to apply for core participant status, as is the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group. 

The three groups have urged for work to start immediately on the probe, announced by PM Boris Johnson earlier this year, but bereaved families said they have the impression that little progress is being made.

The pandemic has claimed more than 150,000 lives in Britain, one of the highest death tolls in the world. 

R&RA, which has been supporting older people and their families impacted by the “neglect” of the care sector through its helpline during the pandemic, said it wants to ensure their voices are heard. 

Director Helen Wildbore said: “Our work has given us unique insights into the experiences of people living at the sharp end of coronavirus.

“We will make sure their voices are heard at the public inquiry and push for the answers families are so desperate for.”

Leigh Day partners Emma Jones and Tessa Gregory, representing the groups, said: “If the inquiry is to be effective it is imperative that our clients, who have fought to ensure the rights of residents and relatives are protected, are allowed to play a full role in the inquiry process.”

Expressing fears that little progress has been made, Hannah Brady, from Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said: “The government cannot kick the can down the road on this, doing so could put lives at risk further down the line.”

The group has met Cabinet Office officials to make it clear they should be given core participant status, she said. 

This would let the groups make opening and closing statements, see inquiry reports relevant to them in advance of publication and allow their lawyers to question witnesses. 

In granting a person or organisation core participant status, the inquiry chairman must consider whether they played a direct and significant role or have significant interest in the matters the inquiry will examine.

Labour MP and former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott told the Morning Star that bereaved families must be at the centre of the inquiry. 

“A full public inquiry into one of the largest peacetime death tolls is long overdue,” she said.

“It should examine all the dreadful consequences of government decisions and what motivated them. 

“Bereaved families must be at the centre of that as their loved ones paid the ultimate price for ministers’ lethal decisions.”

Preliminary findings from the People’s Covid Inquiry, organised by campaign group Keep Our NHS public, concluded the government was “unfit for purpose” during the crisis. 

The unofficial probe, chaired by prominent human rights lawyer Michael Mansfield QC, gathered evidence from a range of experts and affected groups, including bereaved families. 

Echoing Ms Abbott, Keep Our NHS Public co-chair Dr John Puntis said it was “absolutely essential” for bereaved families to be put at the centre of the official inquiry. 

“Being granted core participant status would be some recognition of this fact. Unfortunately, the government and Prime Minister have shown little empathy with the many who have lost loved ones, and continue to resist calls for an urgent investigation for fear of political damage. 

“In response to a request from Keep Our NHS Public for information on progress so far, the Cabinet Office replied on July 7 indicating that no preparations had yet been made. The families may have a very long wait for justice.”

A government spokeswoman said: “We have committed to holding a full public inquiry as soon as is reasonably possible.”

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