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 heartbreaking stories”.
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.”
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 that 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.
Mr McMahon said the meeting on Tuesday was a “different kettle of fish” and said 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.
“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.
When Lord Brailsford was appointed as chairman, he said the inquiry sought to “find out whether anything could, or even should, have been done differently and what lessons can be learned for the future”.
He also promised families the inquiry would work independently to find answers.
Mr Anwar said it is important the new chairman works closely with the UK-wide probe and families expect the Scottish inquiry to “investigate robustly and fiercely defend its independence, ensuring that there is a legacy for those who died”.
He added: “Whether it be care homes, hospital DNRs (do not resuscitate orders), lack of shielding, shifting guidelines and protocols, lack of PPE and so much more – whether it be politicians, officials, health trusts, or governments, there should be no hiding place for those who took the wrong decisions that needlessly cost the lives of thousands.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry said: “Lord Brailsford is holding a series of meetings with bereaved families and relatives of care home residents in Scotland.
“The discussions allow him to learn more about their experiences during the pandemic in Scotland, and how they and their relatives were impacted by the lockdowns and other restrictions.
“This is vital in shaping how the inquiry will carry out its investigations and Lord Brailsford is very grateful to those involved.”