The families of Covid-19 victims hold silent protest outside inquiry

3 Tuesday October 2023

The families of those who lost their lives during the pandemic have held a silent protest outside the UK Covid-19 Inquiry.

Some groups have claimed the new stage of the investigation is ignoring how they were failed by specific politicians and policymakers.

The relatives, many of whom were holding portraits of their deceased loved ones, stood beside a banner which read “Stop silencing the bereaved” and which bore the laughing faces of current and former government ministers and senior officials including Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak, David Cameron, Matt Hancock, Jeremy Hunt and Dominic Cummings.

They stood outside the west London base on Tuesday as the inquiry began nine weeks of public hearings to investigate the core UK decision-making and political governance which took place.

The chairwomen of the inquiry, Baroness Heather Hallett, has stated people will not be ignored during this second phase of the process.

Lorelei King, 69, said she was making a stand on behalf of her actor husband Vincent Marzello, 72, who died in March 2020.

She said: “I am here to ensure the inquiry does its job properly and I am here to learn about what happened during this particularly crucial time, especially the early part of the pandemic when my husband died.

“I have some concerns. One of my wishes for this inquiry is that there is sufficient evidence.

“I hope the inquiry has access to evidence it needs which includes evidence from the bereaved. They have taken impact statements but we have much more to provide. Many of us were eye witnesses to what went on during that time.

“I think it is a shame to squander what we have to offer.”

Campaigners hold up pictures of their relatives that died outside the UK Covid-19 / Photo credit: Lucy North/PA Wire

Out of the more than 230,115 families bereaved by Covid, there is just one which has been called to give evidence, the campaigners noted.

Sioux Vosper, 58, of Fulham, west London, who was protesting on behalf of her father John Leigh, 80, a retired engineer who died in April 2020, said: “I will be here every day because the bereaved are being silenced. Our voices are not being listened to.

“They need to listen to our stories. Our stories will help prevent other people’s deaths. Our stories will help create change. We know what mistakes they made. They need to listen to us.”

Ministers and other Government officials are expected to give evidence during the second module of the inquiry.

Other witnesses will include expert advisers, including members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), civil servants and health officials from the NHS, the Department of Health and Social Care and the now defunct Public Health England.

In opening the hearing, inquiry Baroness Hallett said the bereaved had maintained “a dignified presence” outside the building “to remind us of why we are all here”.

But she insisted their views are not being ignored, adding: “I understand their concerns, however we simply do not have time to call more witnesses.

“The need for me to reach conclusions and make recommendations to reduce suffering in the future when the next pandemic hits the UK is pressing.

“I say when the next pandemic hits the UK because the evidence in module one suggested it is not if another pandemic will hit us but when.

“The more witnesses we call in any module and the longer the hearing takes, the greater the delay in making recommendations and the greater the delay in hearing other important modules investigating for example, care homes and children and young people.”

The bereaved, along with anyone who has suffered, would be key to helping her make judgments on systemic failures and in her conclusions and recommendations, the chairwoman insisted.

They may also be called as witnesses in later stages of the inquiry.

A video featuring the painful memories of those who were bereaved during the pandemic was played at the start of Tuesday’s hearing.

The voice of an elderly widower, who was only identified as Alan from the Midlands, shook as he recalled his wife’s death.

He said in the video: “There was only eight people allowed to attend and then to find out the later revelations that the day of my wife’s funeral under those draconian restrictions our government officials were holding parties – my wife deserved better.”