Government has 'no capacity' for Covid-19 inquiry, bereaved families told

26 April 2021, 20:51 | Updated: 27 April 2021, 00:45

A woman looks at the National Covid Memorial Wall of hearts, each heart representing an individual coronavirus death, in evening sunlight in London
A woman looks at the National Covid Memorial Wall of hearts, each heart representing an individual coronavirus death, in evening sunlight in London. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

The Government has "no capacity" at present to launch a public inquiry into the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, it has told bereaved families.

An inquiry "now is not appropriate" and people who would need to give evidence are "working round the clock" to keep society safe, families were told in a six-page letter from the Government Legal Department.

Members of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group were told that the Government is "focused entirely" on responding to the pandemic, in particular on the vaccination rollout and preparations for a third wave.

Read more: Boris Johnson denies saying he'd rather see 'bodies pile high' than have third lockdown

The letter, sent on April 1, says the Government's response is at a "critical phase" and all efforts are focused on this "monumental challenge".

It adds that the Prime Minister "has already made clear that there will be an independent inquiry at the appropriate time, which is not now".

It reads: "There is simply no capacity for Government to pause these efforts and divert resources to an intensive independent inquiry.

"The very people who would need to give evidence to an inquiry are working round the clock to respond to the pandemic and keep us all safe.

"It is not anticipated that the Government's workload will ease in the coming months.

Read more: Nicola Sturgeon: PM's alleged 'bodies piled high' comment is 'all too believable'

"The Prime Minister and Secretary of State are clear that there should be no diversion from the Government's effort in responding to the virus."

The group is calling for an independent, judge-led inquiry with a rapid review so lessons can be learned in time for any third wave.

Co-founder Jo Goodman questioned how the Government can be "too busy to answer to a judge-led inquiry, and yet have time to conduct in-house parliamentary inquiries?"

She added: "How long will grieving families be left without answers, without assurance that the mistakes that led to our loved ones' deaths are not repeated?

"We are still living through the pandemic - procrastination is not only an insult to the bereaved, it also prevents the Government from protecting future lives to the best of their ability."

The group also hit out at claims, reported in the Daily Mail, that Boris Johnson said he would rather see "bodies piled high in their thousands" than order a third lockdown.

The paper did not give a source for the allegation, which has been denied by ministers and by the PM, who called it "total, total rubbish".

Matt Fowler, co-founder of the group, said: "It's caused absolute uproar and outrage among members, they fear there is a flippancy attached".

He added: "These callous comments will have caused untold hurt to hundreds of thousands of us across the whole of the country.

"This demonstrates exactly why an urgent inquiry is so vital, to understand the decisions, rationale and consideration in protecting our loved ones that the Government chose."