Resignation-hit Scottish Covid inquiry to begin key 'pilot activities' in December

The beleaguered Scottish Covid-19 public inquiry is due to begin "initial pilot activities" around a key strand of its work in December.

The probe is set to kick off its public engagement "listening project” before the end of the year.

It comes amid concern the review is "going nowhere" following a string of resignations.

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Its lead counsel and three junior counsels quit on Thursday last week, while Lady Poole, its chair, resigned the following day for "personal reasons".

The Scottish Covid inquiry is set to begin pilot activities in December

Professor Peter Watson, a lawyer who represents some of the affected families and the Scottish Police Federation, said delays were now “inevitable”.

He told the BBC: "It is extraordinary, to say the least, for people such as counsel to the inquiry and others to resign their post and leave.

"Most lawyers would find ways to work round any perceived difficulties, but for lawyers to say they will no longer accept instructions – quite extraordinary."

He said another judge would be “difficult to get” and “no-one” would want to replace the lead counsel.

A spokesman for the inquiry, which was set up in December 2021, but is yet to hold a session, said it was continuing its work “pending the appointment of a new chair”.

He said: “We intend to pilot listening project activities later this year.

"The listening project will inform the inquiry’s investigations and report to the Scottish Government on the lessons that need to be learned to ensure that we are better prepared for any future pandemic.

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“The independent inquiry’s focus has been on gathering evidence before holding oral hearings.

"The inquiry commissioned academic reports on aspects of the devolved strategic response to the pandemic, which were published on its website in June, when its terms of reference were finalised.

"In addition, the inquiry has issued ‘do not destroy’ letters to organisations and individuals, is reviewing core participant status applications, and has made orders under its statutory powers to obtain relevant information from the Scottish Government.”

Deputy First Minister John Swinney previously insisted there had been “absolutely no political interference” in the inquiry and denied concealing information from MSPs.

The review’s official website says it is “too early” to give a detailed timeline of its work, which includes oral hearings, calls for formal evidence and a listening project.

However, documents intended for potential contractors provide more information.

A “prior information notice” related to the listening project says it is a “public engagement project which aims to give people in Scotland the opportunity to participate in the inquiry, should they wish to do so, by sharing their experiences in regards to the inquiry’s terms of reference”.

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It adds: “The inquiry hopes the listening project will play an important role in capturing the experiences of individuals and groups who may not be able to, or may not wish to, engage with the inquiry in a more formal capacity.

"The inquiry’s aim is to commence initial pilot activities in December 2022.

"The information gathered from this engagement and consultation will be synthesised into thematic reports in order to inform the work undertaken by the inquiry chair and counsel.

"The project will assist the inquiry in identifying any disparities in the devolved strategic response to the pandemic, including unequal impacts on people.”



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