Boris Johnson meets Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group in No 10

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Members of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group arrive in Downing Street for a private meeting with the prime minister (PA)
Members of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group arrive in Downing Street for a private meeting with the prime minister (PA)

Boris Johnson has promised to appoint someone to chair the public inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic by Christmas following a meeting with bereaved family members.

The Prime Minister also lent his support to the National Covid Memorial Wall, suggesting it could become a permanent national memorial to the tragedy.

The prime minister held a 90 minute private meeting with members of the 4,000-strong group Bereaved Families for Justice at Downing Street on Tuesday.

During the 90-minute meeting, a group of five relatives shared how their loved ones caught the virus and died.

They requested for the meeting to take place outdoors with social distancing and are expected to share how their loved ones caught the virus and died.

It comes 398 days after Mr Johnson said he would “of course” meet people bereaved by the pandemic.

Mr Johnson was expected to be joined by senior civil servants from the cabinet office and government’s legal department.

The group has urged for a Covid inquiry to take place and initially called for a rapid review last summer.

They said Mr Johnson had told them that there is a "clear role for bereaved families in the inquiry" and they will have an input into who is appointed to chair the probe.

He also said the wall opposite the Houses of Parliament decorated with thousands of hearts is a "good candidate to be a permanent national memorial. I support it, it's very moving", according to the families.

Following the meeting, the group said: "Although we wish this meeting had taken place a long time ago, we're pleased that the Prime Minister has chosen to finally engage with us and that he explicitly acknowledged the importance of ensuring that bereaved families are at the heart of learning lessons from the pandemic.

Members of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group (PA)
Members of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group (PA)

"However, we are still disappointed by the lack of urgency the Prime Minister displayed as we see no reason why preparations for the inquiry cannot begin now, particularly as nearly 1,000 people are still losing their lives each week."

They said Mr Johnson must now follow through on his commitment to appoint a chair and involve families, adding: "We hope that we can accept the Prime Minister's commitments in good faith and, going forward, that there will be ongoing and meaningful dialogue with bereaved families."

Co-founder Jo Goodman, who was among those at No 10, said befre the meeting: “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.

“We hope that the prime minister will listen to us... and start the process to begin the inquiry immediately, whilst ensuring that the perspective of bereaved families is at its heart.

“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.”

Latest figures show more than 136,000 people in the UK have died within 28 days of a positive test.

Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice says there were huge gaps in the country’s preparedness for the pandemic including delays to locking down, inadequate PPE supplies, care homes policies and more which they claim contributed to the overall death toll.

A statement on the group’s website adds: “It’s heart wrenching to know that some of the deaths could have been prevented if only this had been handled better.”

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