Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Lydia Chantler-Hicks

‘We want to learn the lessons’: Families hope for answers as Covid inquiry begins

Grieving families who lost loved ones during the pandemic will have their voices heard at last when the Covid-19 Inquiry begins on Tuesday.

Two years after former prime minister Boris Johnson announced a public inquiry into the nation’s handling of the pandemic would be set up chairwoman Baroness Heather Hallett is set to formally open the first substantive hearing in west London.

An emotive video featuring people from across the UK sharing their experiences of loss - which has been described as “difficult to watch” - will be played to the hearing following Lady Hallett’s opening statement.

The inquiry team says the film features “some of those who suffered most during the pandemic”.

The first module of the inquiry is expected to last around six weeks, during which there will be a focus on whether the pandemic was properly planned for and “whether the UK was adequately ready for that eventuality”.

Leshie Chandrapala, whose father Ranjith - a bus driver from north-west London - died with Covid in May 2020 described Tuesday as “a monumental day”.

She believes her father could still be alive today, had he and other bus drivers been better protected while working at the pandemic’s height.

“We want to learn the lessons so that in future pandemics we’re not going to have a death toll near as much as a quarter of a million people,” she told Sky News.

“My dad was a key worker and I need to know what measures were in place and how the Department for Transport, TFL, the bus operators, were working together to keep those bus drivers safe.

“We know that bus driver deaths were very high, disproportionate numbers of transport workers died during the pandemic. And why is that? Was there a lack of preparedness?”

Elkan Abrahamson, a solicitor representing the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice (CBFFJ) UK group, which has almost 7,000 members, said Tuesday “marks the end of a two-year battle by the bereaved to get a statutory public inquiry”.

“As a nation, we have many lessons to learn from the pandemic and we must start to learn them now and avoid needless deaths,” he said.

The campaign group has complained of feeling marginalised after putting forward 20 people to be considered as witnesses for the first module, none of whom it said have been called to give evidence.

But a spokeswoman for the inquiry said Lady Hallett “has been clear she hasn’t ruled out calling testimony from bereaved people in later investigations, for example with the use of do not resuscitate orders”.

The spokeswoman also highlighted the Every Story Matters campaign where people can share their experiences with the inquiry.

Tuesday’s hearing will also feature opening statements by the counsel to the inquiry and core participants, including a lawyer for the CBFFJ group.

Recent weeks have seen a row between the inquiry chairwoman and the Government over access to material.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been accused of a cover-up after the Cabinet Office announced a High Court challenge to Lady Hallett’s request for Mr Johnson’s unredacted WhatsApp messages and notebooks.

The Cabinet Office said some of the information requested by the inquiry does not relate to the Government’s handling of coronavirus and is “unambiguously irrelevant”.

But the retired senior judge has refused to back down from her request for Mr Johnson’s correspondence, saying it is for her to rule what is relevant to the investigation.

Mr Sunak has denied attempting to block the probe’s access.

The investigation into the UK’s handling of the pandemic is set to last years and cost more than £100million.

The inquiry is split into six modules, with public hearings scheduled to conclude by summer 2026, and interim reports published before then.

Lady Hallett is planning to publish reports for Module 1 and 2 (core UK decision-making and political governance) next year.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.