Covid bereaved group hopes at long last PM will ‘take us seriously’ ahead of key meeting

The co-founder of a bereaved families group has said he hopes the Prime Minister will “at long last…take us seriously” when he meets members at Downing Street this week.

Matt Fowler, who helped set up the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, said the most important thing is for Boris Johnson to understand the necessity of starting the public inquiry as soon as possible.

The PM will host a private meeting with representatives of the group on Tuesday afternoon – more than a year after promising to meet with those bereaved by the pandemic.

Families have asked for it to take place outdoors with social distancing.

They will share how their loved ones caught the virus and died, and repeat their calls for the promised public inquiry to be prioritised.

Mr Fowler told the PA news agency: “I think it’s going to be something incredibly, incredibly difficult for our representatives who will be there.

“And I’m just really hoping that the Prime Minister will at long last take it seriously and take us seriously – we definitely feel like we haven’t been.”

The 34-year-old from Nuneaton, Warwickshire, added: “We haven’t been standing in the streets and shouting at him about how it’s all his fault and making accusations against him because as far as we’re concerned, that doesn’t help anybody.

“What’s important for us, what should be important for everybody, is the work that goes into this is about protecting people and saving lives.”

Mr Fowler’s father Ian, who developed coronavirus symptoms in the week before the first national lockdown, died in hospital in April 2020 aged 56.

He described his father, a former design engineer at Jaguar Land Rover, as the “life and soul of every party – including the ones he wasn’t actually invited to.”

He was an “immensely well-known, popular, well-loved guy” who enjoyed playing snooker during his semi-retirement.

Mr Fowler continued: “One man – he touched the lives of hundreds, and that’s the same for everybody, every other loss is someone who has been loved and lost and respected and mourned by countless numbers of other people.

“We’ve lost an incredible wealth of experience.”

Mr Fowler said the bereaved group is hearing stories from new members that parallel their experiences from 18 months ago.

Issues the group plans to raise during Tuesday’s meeting include the disproportionate effect of the virus on some ethnic minority groups, public transport and workplace transmission, the impact of repeated late lockdowns, and failures to learn lessons from the first wave.

Mr Johnson has previously said the inquiry will start in spring 2022.

Elkan Abrahamson, director and head of major inquiries at the law firm Broudie Jackson Canter, will represent the group at the upcoming probe.

He has represented families at the Hillsborough and Manchester Arena bombing inquests.

Mr Abrahamson, who will attend Tuesday’s meeting, said the PM will be asked for timings on when an inquiry chair and panel will be appointed and when hearings can start.

The group also wants him to ensure that bereaved families will be properly consulted throughout the process.

He told PA: “It’s not impractical to suggest that oral hearings can start pretty soon. It might be impractical to suggest you can have the whole thing done and dusted in three months because you can’t.

“But it’s about saving lives, and if there was a particular area where lives could arguably be saved by a detailed analysis of the position, and hearing expert evidence, that would be the way to go.”

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