Boris Johnson has become embroiled in an increasingly bitter dispute with a group of families who have lost loved ones to coronavirus after he claimed they had launched “litigation” against the government.
However, the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice have said the prime minister’s remarks were “simply not true” – and challenged Mr Johnson to meet them next week.
Asked by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer on Wednesday why he had failed to meet the families, Mr Johnson said the group “are currently in litigation against the government and I will certainly meet them once that litigation is concluded”.
The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice – representing 1,600 families – insisted it had yet not taken any legal action over its call for a statutory public inquiry into the government’s response to the pandemic.
The group stated: “Our five letters make clear we want to meet to avoid [litigation]. If he’ll certainly meet with [us] once litigation is concluded, great: it never started. How’s Monday for you prime minister?”
The families’ lawyer Elkan Abrahamson said it was “simply not true” for Mr Johnson to claim that the group is already in litigation with the government.
The group’s lawyers did write to the government to say the families were considering initiating proceedings in the High Court if the government did not announce a public inquiry.
No 10 said it had nothing to add to Mr Johnson’s statement in the Commons, and pointed The Independent to the PM’s reply letter to the group – in which he referred only to “pre-action” correspondence.
Mr Johnson wrote to the group: “I understand that Bereaved Families for Justice have instructed solicitors who are currently engaged in pre-action correspondence in relation to this matter.
“All further correspondence relating to this issue should pass through the respective legal teams.”
Mr Johnson was accused by Labour of “going back on his word” after he had told Sky News last week that “of course I will meet the bereaved”.
Jo Goodman, co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, who lost her father Stuart to the virus, said: “There’s no legal action happening, so that can’t be the reason he’s not meeting with us.
“So will he now commit to meet with us so we can share our experiences of serious issues – from deaths in care homes to inadequate protective equipment – that can help him learn crucial lessons and save lives?”
Ms Goodman added: “It feels like we’re the wrong kind of bereaved people – like the prime minister only wants to meet with bereaved people who won’t ask difficult questions.”