Chair of Scotland’s Covid inquiry will ‘not shy away’ from holding wrong decisions to account

The chair of Scotland’s inquiry into coronavirus has said it will not “shy away” from making findings where the wrong decisions have been made.

Lady Poole will chair the inquiry into the devolved response to the pandemic in order to learn lessons for the future.

On Wednesday, it launched publicly with a new website setting out its aims and remit.

However, the inquiry is not yet at a stage where it is inviting submissions from members of the public.

The website of the Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry says its official “set up date” was on February 28, after which the counsel team began preparatory work.

It says there is ongoing recruitment for key positions.

Lady Poole (pictured) was appointed in December 2021, after Nicola Sturgeon confirmed in August that an independent judge-led inquiry would take place.

Its terms of reference set out 12 specific areas it will investigate, including health, education and the decision to impose lockdowns.

One of these areas relates to care and nursing homes, including the transfer of residents and infection control measures.

Lady Poole said: “In Scotland all of us have been affected by the pandemic and the measures taken to handle it. The suffering and the hardship experienced by many across the country has been unprecedented.

“Covid-19 has left loss, heartbreak and tragedy in its wake. I want to take this opportunity to express my condolences to all those who have suffered, particularly to those who have lost people they love.

“People have legitimate questions about the handling of the pandemic in Scotland. This inquiry had been set up to provide answers.

“My role as chair of the Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry is to investigate aspects of the devolved response to the pandemic in Scotland and report about lessons learned.

“The inquiry will not shy away from making findings where wrong decisions were made or where the response was inadequate or fell short.”

Adverse impacts on human rights would be considered by the inquiry, the judge said.

Lady Poole said her inquiry would cover “Scottish matters”, while another inquiry would examine the UK-wide response.

She said her team is liaising with the UK inquiry to ensure there is no duplication of their work.

The Scottish inquiry will take place in three phases: establishment, investigation and reporting.

Reports will be provided to Scottish ministers “as quickly as possible”, Lady Poole said.

One of the elements involving the public will be a “listening project”, giving people opportunities to tell the inquiry their experiences, as well as inviting written submissions.

Following the inquiry’s public launch, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton called for it to produce interim findings within a year.

He said: “I hope that Lady Poole’s inquiry will leave no stone unturned and that she will be able to provide a degree of closure for the families.

“We need to see interim findings reported within a year because we know from past form that these inquiries can drag on for years before reaching a conclusion and time is pressing.

“As time passes, documentation is lost and memories fade so there is a risk that justice delayed could be justice denied. Secondly, there is no guarantee that a pandemic on this scale is a once-in-a-hundred-years affair so it is essential that lessons are learned.

“The First Minster, her health secretaries and senior officials should be prepared to give evidence to Lady Poole as part of the evidence-gathering process.”

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