Bereaved tell Covid inquiry chair they must be ‘at heart’ of her investigations

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Bereaved relatives who lost loved ones in the pandemic have urged the newly announced inquiry chair to put them at the heart of her investigations.

Retired Court of Appeal judge and crossbench life peer Baroness Heather Hallett will chair the public inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic, due to begin in spring.

The announcement on Wednesday was welcomed by bereaved relatives, who said they hope their experiences can help prevent future loss of life.

Boris Johnson said Baroness Hallett will bring “a wealth of experience to the role and I know shares my determination that the inquiry examines in a forensic and thoroughgoing way the Government’s response to the pandemic”.

Co-founder of the group Matt Fowler said: “We will never know how many lives could have been saved had the Government had a rapid review phase in summer 2020.

“With the Omicron variant upon us, the inquiry really cannot come soon enough.

“This is a one-off, historic opportunity to learn lessons to protect lives across the country. We cannot afford to get it wrong and we look forward to working closely with Baroness Hallett to make it a success.”

Coronavirus – Tue Sep 28, 2021
The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group said it will be ‘working closely’ with Baroness Hallett (James Manning/PA)

Susie Crozier said her father Howard Crozier, who died on March 28, 2020, caught Covid in hospital.

The private tutor from Sunderland told PA: “We are the ones with the lived experience of this, we are the experts in what happened to our loved ones because we were there.”

She added: “I would utterly urge her (the chair) to be involved with us and have us at the heart of the inquiry, and to consult us on the terms of reference.”

Rivka Gottlieb urged Baroness Hallett to work “as thoroughly and quickly as possible” and called for a diverse panel to work alongside the chair, saying “so many different people from all walks of life and all different cultures and heritages and ethnicities” had been affected.

Her father Michael Gottlieb, 73, died on April 17 last year, having come down with Covid symptoms the day before the first lockdown was announced.

The music therapist from north London told PA: “We very much hope that bereaved families will be at the centre of this inquiry and will be consulted on the terms of reference. This is very important.

“We have experienced things that need to be heard in the inquiry and that will, we hope, help prevent further loss of life.”

Retired Court of Appeal judge and crossbench life peer Baroness Heather Hallett (UK Parliament/PA)
Retired Court of Appeal judge and crossbench life peer Baroness Heather Hallett (UK Parliament/PA)

She said: “The pandemic has affected us all, some much worse than others. I am acutely conscious of the suffering it has caused to so many.

“In the new year I shall be seeking views from those who have lost loved ones and all other affected groups about the inquiry’s terms of reference.

“I want to assure the British public that once the terms of reference are finalised, I shall do my utmost to ensure the inquiry answers as many questions as possible about the UK’s response to the pandemic so that we can all learn lessons for the future.”

The Government said the inquiry will have “full powers, including the power to compel the production of documents and to summon witnesses to give evidence on oath”.

No 10 said Mr Johnson will now consult Baroness Hallett and ministers from the devolved administrations on the terms of reference for the inquiry and will publish a draft in the new year, with a consultation – including with bereaved families and other affected groups – before they are finalised.

In a written statement, Mr Johnson said the inquiry “will play a key role in examining the UK’s pandemic response and ensuring that we learn the right lessons for the future”.

He added that it “must ensure that those most affected by the pandemic – including those who have sadly lost loved ones – can play their proper role in the process”.

Baroness Hallett is leading the inquest into the death of Dawn Sturgess, who was unwittingly poisoned by Novichok in 2018.

Last month, Home Secretary Priti Patel upgraded the inquest to a public inquiry and Baroness Hallett was due to chair that, but a new person will now be found.

From 2019, Baroness Hallett led the Iraq Fatalities Investigations, surrounding allegations of unlawful killing by British Forces.

In 2014, she chaired the Hallett Review of the administrative scheme to deal with ‘on the runs’ in Northern Ireland, where individuals could inquire whether or not they were at risk of arrest if they returned to Northern Ireland or the rest of the UK.

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