Boris Johnson meets with members of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families group for first time… 18 months after first death to the virus was recorded in UK
Boris Johnson is today meeting a group of families bereaved by coronavirus – more than a year after he first promised to do so – with the PM to be told by campaigners: ‘If we’d been listened to – other lives might have been spared’.
The Prime Minister held a private meeting with members of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group in the Downing Street garden this afternoon, with each person attending carrying an A4 photo of the loved-one they lost.
Families have asked for it to take place outdoors with social distancing and said they would tell Mr Johnson how their loved ones caught the virus and died, and repeat their calls for a public inquiry to start.
The talks came 398 days after Mr Johnson said he would ‘of course’ meet people bereaved by the pandemic.
Group co-founder Jo Goodman – whose former Fleet Street photographer father Stuart, 72, died – said ahead of the summit: ‘It has been over a year since the Prime Minister first said he would meet us, and in that time over 100,000 people across the country have lost their lives with Covid-19.
‘One of the hardest parts of the pandemic for us has been seeing new families join each week with the same pain and grief that we’ve experienced and distressingly similar stories to our own.
‘We first called for a rapid review last summer so that lessons could be learnt from the deaths of our loved ones to protect others, and we can’t help but feel that if we’d been listened to then, other lives might have been spared.
Group co-founder Jo Goodman – whose former Fleet Street photographer father Stuart, 72,(right) died of covid, led the group into No 10 to meet the PM today
Members of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group holding photos of loved ones outside 10 Downing Street
Nurses from the nearby St Thomas’ hospital sit atop the National Covid Memorial Wall in London
‘Most of all, we hope that by sharing our stories, we can help to protect other families from the suffering and tragedy that we’ve been through.’
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.
He said ahead of the meeting: ‘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.’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson finally met the relatives – 398 days after he first promised to do so
Department of Health bosses recorded 37,960 positive tests, compared to 36,100 last Monday. It marks the tenth day in-a-row that infections have risen week-on-week
Another 40 deaths were also posted, down slightly from the 49 lab-confirmed victims registered the week before
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 included 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 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.’