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Covid bereaved group demands ‘truth’ ahead of UK Covid-19 Inquiry Scottish dates

Solicitor Aamer Anwar with Caroleanne Stewart (left) and Pamela Thomas (right) and relatives of the bereaved from the Scottish Covid Bereaved (Jane Barlow/PA)
Solicitor Aamer Anwar with Caroleanne Stewart (left) and Pamela Thomas (right) and relatives of the bereaved from the Scottish Covid Bereaved (Jane Barlow/PA)

A Covid bereaved group has called on the Scottish and UK governments to tell the “truth” about the early days of the Covid lockdown in Scotland, ahead of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry resuming north of the border.

The UK Covid-19 Inquiry resumes on Tuesday with hearings in Edinburgh over the next three weeks.

The latest phase of the inquiry will examine and make recommendations about the Scottish Government’s core political and administrative decision-making in response to the pandemic between early January 2020 and April 2022, when the then remaining Covid-19 restrictions were lifted in Scotland.

The inquiry is expected to hear from Scotland’s former first minister Nicola Sturgeon, other current and former government figures and a number of senior civil servants.

Solicitor Aamer Anwar, who represents Scottish Covid Bereaved – a group of people who have lost loved ones to the virus – will make an opening statement at the hearing on Tuesday.

In a statement on behalf of Scottish Covid Bereaved, he said: “Senior UK politicians appeared unable to answer questions put to them.

“The Scottish Covid Bereaved wish to say, loudly and clearly to politicians in Scotland who will give evidence in this module, that they want better – on behalf of their relatives, they deserve better – they want politicians to answer questions put to them directly, to reflect upon their time during the pandemic and they want them to wholly engage in the process of finding out what happened, putting politics and political careers aside.

“Quite frankly the work of this inquiry is more important.”

Mr Anwar said some of the inquiry’s “best evidence” came from WhatsApp and text messages, but said there was a “sorry history” in obtaining the documents.

In November, the Scottish Government handed over 14,000 messages to the inquiry, including unredacted correspondence from First Minister Humza Yousaf.

Ms Sturgeon has not said if she deleted WhatsApp messages but said she has “nothing to hide”.

Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry
Solicitor Aamer Anwar with two members of Scottish Covid Bereaved, who gave evidence last year (Jane Barlow/PA)

Mr Anwar said: “As the inquiry will no doubt hear, in March and April 2021 promises were made not only to the SCB but the people of Scotland in the manifesto on which the members of the Scottish Government stood, that there would be a public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic.

“It ought to have been obvious to politicians, advisers and civil servants at least from then if not earlier, that the evidence of contemporaneous discussions in relation to the pandemic response would be of vital importance to the subsequent inquiry.

“Were no steps taken to secure these messages? Did the deletion of messages continue after spring 2021?

“They look forward to hearing how our politicians and civil servants attempt to justify this position.”

Mr Anwar asked if decisions to lift lockdowns in Scotland which differed from decisions made south of the border were “just for the sake of doing things differently, or a reflection of a different stage in the process of the virus”.

He concluded: “The Scottish Covid Bereaved want to know the truth of what took place in those early days, to know about the decisions which directly impacted on the death of their loved ones.

“The knowledge of what happened can never take away their grief, but it may save the lives of many in the next inevitable pandemic. That at the very least is the legacy they are entitled to expect.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is committed to responding to both the UK and Scottish Covid-19 inquiries, as learning lessons from the pandemic is vital to prepare for the future.

“It would be inappropriate to comment on any matters being considered by the UK Covid-19 Inquiry while hearings are ongoing.”

The UK Government was contacted for comment.