PM to appoint head of Covid inquiry by Christmas after meeting bereaved families

28 September 2021, 18:11 | Updated: 28 September 2021, 18:15

The Prime Minister met bereaved families on Tuesday
The Prime Minister met bereaved families on Tuesday. Picture: Alamy Live News

By Daisy Stephens

The Prime Minister has committed to appointing a chair of the public inquiry into coronavirus before Christmas, after he met with families who lost loved ones to the virus.

A Downing Street spokesperson said Boris Johnson "gave a commitment" that the chair would be appointed within the next three months ahead of the inquiry beginning in spring 2021.

"The Prime Minister met with Jo Goodman, Hannah Brady, Fran Hall, Charlie Williams and Lobby Akinnola from Bereaved Families 4 Justice. He thanked them for their powerful and painful accounts of how they lost their loved ones to Covid," said the spokesperson.

"The Prime Minister gave a commitment that the chair of the inquiry would be appointed by Christmas. He set out that for now it is right that public servants continue to focus their efforts on tackling the pandemic before moving on to the inquiry in the spring of next year."

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The spokesperson added that Mr Johnson promised the inquiry would "get to the bottom of many of the questions" that bereaved families have about the pandemic, and that learning lessons from what happened was "critical".

"[Mr Johnson] welcomed the opportunity to hear from Bereaved Families 4 Justice on the areas they would like the inquiry to cover and the importance of choosing the right Chair and panel members, and reiterated that he takes full responsibility for the government’s handling of the pandemic," said the spokesperson, adding that Mr Johnson also "welcomed the suggestion that the inquiry should hold hearings in different parts of the country".

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Bereaved Families 4 Justice welcomed the promise and the Prime Minister's commitment to working with them, saying: "We’re pleased that the PM has chosen to finally engage with us and that he explicitly acknowledged the importance of ensuring that bereaved families are at the heart of learning lessons from the pandemic."

They added that their "expectations" were that they would be "consulted on the role of the appointment of chair and the [terms of reference]".

However the group criticised Mr Johnson for his "lack of urgency" and said the next steps were what "really mattered".

"We are still disappointed by the lack of urgency the Prime Minister displayed as we see no reason why preparations for the inquiry cannot begin now, particularly as nearly 1,000 people are still losing their lives each week," said the campaign group in a tweet.

"What really matters is what happens next. The Prime Minister must appoint a chair as soon as possible following and he must stick to his commitment to bereaved families having a role in deciding the Chair and the Terms of Reference.

"We hope that we can accept the Prime Minister’s commitments in good faith and, going forward, that there will be ongoing and meaningful dialogue with bereaved families."

Mr Johnson has previously defended the timing for the Covid inquiry, saying it would "distract" those currently trying to deal with the pandemic such as NHS workers and government advisers.

But Bereaved Families 4 Justice hit back and said the inquiry should begin in summer 2021.

"The Prime Minister may feel he can wait for answers, but bereaved families certainly can't," they said.

"Learning lessons from the pandemic is critical to saving lives now and in the future. The Prime Minister knows that and he's said as much.

"So why does he think it can wait? Who delays learning critical lessons that can save lives?"

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The Prime Minister also used Tuesday's meeting to suggest that the National Covid Memorial Wall should become a permanent fixture in the capital.

The wall, just across the River Thames from Westminster, has thousands of red hearts with people free to add names and messages to remember those they have lost to coronavirus.