Families feel ‘betrayed’ over Covid-19 inquiry delays, John Swinney hears

Families who lost loved ones to Covid-19 told Scotland’s Deputy First Minister an inquiry into their deaths has “betrayed” promises to keep them front and centre, a solicitor has said.

John Swinney (pictured) met a delegation of members from the Scottish Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group and their solicitor Aamer Anwar on Wednesday.

Following the meeting, Mr Anwar said the families “believed Mr Swinney is a man of integrity” and accepted assurances there was no political interference in the public inquiry.

However, the solicitor said his clients are demanding answers into the handling of Covid-19 deaths.

The resignations of Lady Poole, who chaired Scotland’s Covid-19 inquiry, and four members of the counsel team have led to fears the inquiry could be delayed.

Mr Anwar said: “The bereaved families will not be party to a ticking box exercise and hope a judge with a reputation for fairness, robustness, independence and compassion will be selected to deliver truth and accountability.

“The families for the last several months feel that they have been on a sinking ship.

“Only today were they advised by Mr Swinney that there are 66 staff working in the public inquiry, yet the families to date have no idea what progress they have made, if any.

“Of course, the families respect that judicial independence must firstly be respected, but the bereaved families told Mr Swinney that they believe they have the right to answers from the Lord President on what has gone so wrong.

“There can be no further excuses for delays or mistakes.”

Mr Swinney told the families he expects progress to be made by October 25, it is understood.

Dr Alan Wightman, chairman of the group, lost his mother in May 2020 to coronavirus caught in her care home.

He said he hopes the inquiry will bring the truth for more than 10,000 people who died from coronavirus in Scotland.

“I want accountability, I want lessons to be learned and I want a list of recommendations to be provided and implemented,” he said.

“Any replacement chair who cannot command the respect and co-operation of the families will find that their inquiry will lack credibility.”

Mr Swinney said: “I am grateful to the representative from the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Scotland group for meeting with me today.

“The Scottish Government is keen to help ensure the progress the inquiry is making continues.

“I gave assurances to the group today that work to appoint a new chair is being progressed at pace and that discussions with the Lord President about arrangements for appointing a new judicial chair are under way.”

An update will be given to the Scottish Parliament at the “earliest possible opportunity,” he added.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman, Sandesh Gulhane MSP, said the bereaved families delivered a “damning verdict” on the “complete lack of progress” into the inquiry.

He said: “They are desperate for answers and it is completely unacceptable that over 60 staff working on the inquiry could not update these families on how it is progressing.

“It is simply scandalous that they feel they have never been put front and centre of this inquiry.”

Mr Gulhane added: “It is simply not good enough for John Swinney to say he hopes there will be progress in the next fortnight.

“Families are fast losing faith and need to see leadership from those at the heart of the SNP Government if the inquiry is to have any credibility.”

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