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Lord Brailsford pledges ‘robust investigation’ into handling of Covid pandemic

The chair of Scotland’s Covid-19 inquiry has promised a “robust investigation” into how Scottish ministers responded to the pandemic.

During a preliminary hearing of the Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry, Lord Brailsford paid tribute to those who had lost loved ones or had been severely impacted by the events between January 1 2020 and December 31 2022.

He said: “The Covid-19 pandemic presented the most severe health crisis in living memory. It affected everyone.”

Those who lost loved ones to the virus were among the audience at Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, as the hearing opened with an 11-minute video featuring photographs of those who had died from Covid-19, and included quotes from frontline workers and impacted families.

Lord Brailsford then set out how the inquiry will proceed, with formal hearings commencing from October 24 until December 18, with those adversely affected by the health and social care response providing witness testimonies.

The Scottish inquiry will then pause public hearings until February 2024 to allow the UK inquiry to conduct its Scottish-based evidence sessions.

It will then continue to hear impact statements across the three themes of health, education and finance for the remainder of the year before moving onto assessing decision-making.

Lord Brailsford told the inquiry: “I will conduct a robust investigation without fear or favour that will arrive at the facts, identify any lessons that need to be learned and make recommendations for Scottish ministers so that we are better prepared in the event of any future pandemic.

“I will not take sides and I will act with fairness towards all parties involved in the inquiry process.”

However, the timeline of the inquiry has led to criticism from Aamer Anwar, the lead solicitor on behalf of the Scottish Covid Bereaved Group, who described the inquiry as “shambolic” ahead of the first hearing.

And during supplementary questions to Lord Brailsford, he said: “It would appear that politicians, civil servants and public bodies are off the hook until 2025.

“If the Scottish inquiry continues in this manner, the bereaved have little confidence that it will hold any government, public body, or civil servant to account for the death of thousands from Covid-19 in Scotland.”

Stuart Gale, co-lead counsel of the inquiry, said he and Lord Brailsford had heard “distressing accounts” from bereaved families, adding: “We will not hold back in stating and considering anything we consider to have been mistakes in the strategic decision-making process.”

Speaking to the PA news agency on a visit to the Riverside Museum in Glasgow, First Minister Humza Yousaf expressed his “sympathies” with those who had lost a loved one to the virus.

Mr Yousaf said also he would “co-operate fully” with the pandemic after serving as Health Secretary during the pandemic.

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First Minister Humza Yousaf said he will fully co-operate with the Covid-19 inquiry (Robert Perry/PA)

He said: “The Government absolutely is right to be scrutinised for the decisions that we made.

“I’ll account for all of the decisions that were my responsibility and I know, of course, those that have been in government prior to me have also said they will fully co-operate.”

Lord Brailsford also issued “do not destroy” letters to organisations and relevant individuals, urging WhatsApp, texts and emails to be retained for evidence.