Covid Scotland: Lord Brailsford ‘pressed reset button’ on coronavirus inquiry, families say

Lord Brailsford has “pressed the reset button” on Scotland’s coronavirus inquiry after it was plunged into crisis when the judge originally set to run it quit alongside four senior lawyers, grieving families have said.

The new chairman of Scotland’s Covid-19 inquiry met with families of those who lost their lives to the virus for more than two hours in Edinburgh on Tuesday, and afterwards the bereaved told of the shift in tone from the new inquiry head.

Aamer Anwar, the solicitor representing Scottish Covid-19 bereaved, said they “welcomed the genuine empathy and compassion that Lord Brailsford showed them today as they as they told him their heart-breaking stories”.

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Mr Anwar said: “The families recognise the mammoth task that is faced by Lord Brailsford, but believe that he has pressed the reset button on the Scottish inquiry and were heartened to learn he hopes to commence hearings in 2023.”

Peter McMahon from the Scottish members of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group during a press conference at the Leonardo Hotel, Edinburgh, after they met Lord Brailsford, the new chair of the Scottish Covid-19 public inquiry. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Nearly a year since the inquiry was set up it still has not had any hearings, and has so far cost taxpayers more than £2 million.

Lady Poole quit as its chairwoman in October, citing personal reasons, alongside four lawyers who resigned the day before.

The inquiry had been described as a “sinking ship” by Mr Anwar. But after meeting Lord Brailsford, he said the new chairman appeared to have “hit the ground running from as soon as he was appointed” and was in meetings within 24 hours of taking on the new role.

It is not the first time the families have met with those working on the inquiry, with the last such event featuring Lady Poole being described by Mr Anwar as “not a happy meeting”.

“The families felt that they didn’t get the compassion and empathy they wanted, they didn’t think they were front and centre,” Mr Anwar said, who added the meeting on Tuesday “felt like a very different experience”.

Members of of the bereaved were also scathing about Lady Poole. Peter McMahon said their meeting with her felt like a “box-ticking exercise”.

“We all felt like we weren’t being listened to – she listened to the stories, but she wasn’t taking anything in,” he said.

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Mr McMahon said the meeting on Tuesday was a “different kettle of fish” and Lord Brailsford showed empathy and compassion.

“A much better meeting today and we have gone away with a bit more confidence, and he has told us that the work that Lady Poole and her team had carried out up to this point … that’s not going to be in vain, they are going to use that going forward,” he said.

“And simple things like, they have actually got premises set up that Lady Poole never even achieved … in the months that she was in the chair.”

Alan Wightman, who lost his mother Helen to the virus in May 2020 when she was living in a care home, said he thanked Lord Brailsford “for meeting with members of our group today and for explaining how the Scottish Covid public inquiry is being reset to address the concerns of the bereaved relatives in a timely manner”.

The inquiry was set up to investigate areas such as pre-pandemic planning, the decision to go into lockdown, the supply and distribution of personal protective equipment and how coronavirus was dealt with in care homes.

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