Covid’s bereaved families

Covid’s bereaved families

A group of people united by one haunting question have come together to form the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice. They’ve got the public inquiry they campaigned for, but there’s still a long way to go until they get answers.

Walking along the Albert Embankment by the River Thames, you notice a wall.

It’s nearly 500 metres long, and it’s directly across from the Houses of Parliament. 

Along the wall are more than 150,000 red hearts, each individually drawn and each representing a life lost to Covid-19 in the UK.
One person who’s visited that wall, and drawn their own red heart, is Jo Goodman.  

“I lost my dad Stuart at the start of the pandemic on 2 April.”

Jo Goodman speaking at the People’s Covid Inquiry, March 2021

This is her speaking as a witness at the People’s Covid Inquiry in March 2021.

“He was one of those who lost his life because the lockdown came too late and because vulnerable people weren’t effectively protected.”

Jo Goodman speaking at the People’s Covid Inquiry, March 2021

Jo Goodman’s father, Stuart, was 72 when he died in April 2020. She’d moved from London to her family home in Norwich a month earlier to stay with him.

Stuart was a retired press photographer and was about to begin cancer treatment.

On the 18th of March 2020, a week before the first lockdown began, Stuart had a hospital appointment. He believed it would be safe but by that date, there had already been 201 deaths related to Covid-19 in England.

“This is your coronavirus update for Wednesday 18 March. In the UK there have been 676 new cases, bringing the total to 2,626. Schools in England, Scotland and Wales are to close in the coming days…”

ITV News

And on that day alone, a further 103 deaths would be officially reported.  

One week after his appointment, Stuart, who was mildly asthmatic, began experiencing Covid-19 symptoms. 

“My dad received his shielding letter nine days after he passed away and we believe he’s most likely to have contracted Covid in a crowded hospital waiting room in the week before lockdown when no PPE was provided.”

Jo Goodman speaking at the People’s Covid Inquiry, March 2021

After losing her dad, Jo Goodman was angry at those who had failed to protect him and so she spoke to the Independent which published an article about her story. 

It caught the eye of Matt Fowler. He had also just lost his 52-year-old father to Covid-19. He also blamed the government. 

So the pair set up a Facebook page to offer bereavement support for those who had lost loved ones to the virus… and it quickly grew into a group of more than 4,000 people. 

They saw each and every death as unnecessary… and began to campaign for an immediate, statutory public inquiry into the government’s management of the pandemic. 

Because Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice was united by a single, haunting question: would their loved ones still be alive if different decisions had been made? 

***

With others, Jo Goodman repeatedly tried to get a meeting with the government and first wrote to prime minister Boris Johnson on the 11th of June 2020 calling for a rapid public inquiry. 

In that letter, the group noted the discharge of people from hospital into care homes, the adequacy of test and trace, and the government’s planning for a second wave of infections.

Charlie Williams is also a member of the group. He spoke to ITV News in August 2020…

“We expect you know all of our care homes to be protected and a ring of steel… as our prime minister quoted, around the care homes… but this was far from the truth.”

Charlie Williams, ITV News

He lost his father, Rex, to Covid-19. Rex was living in a care home when he died.

And just like Jo Goodman, Charlie Williams blames the government’s decisions for his father’s death because between 17 March and 15 April 2020, 25,000 patients, including those infected or possibly infected with Covid, were discharged from hospital into care homes without being tested. 

“In February 2020, care homes were told not to worry, that Covid was very unlikely to seep through their doors. Over the next two months, twelve and a half thousand of their residents died in England and Wales after contracting it.”

4 News

That policy has now been found to have been unlawful by the High Court, which is a long way from the government’s claim that it threw a “protective ring” around vulnerable residents.

***

The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice continued to send letters and request meetings with the prime minister… but it wasn’t until May 2021 that Boris Johnson announced that there would be an inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic.

“Amid such tragedy the state has an obligation to examine its actions as rigorously and candidly as possible and to learn every lesson for the future. Which is why I’ve always said that when the time is right there should be a full and independent inquiry.”

Boris Johnson

The inquiry still hasn’t started, but it does have a chair.

Baroness Heather Hallett has sent her terms of reference to the Prime Minister, which will establish a structure for the inquiry.

And even once it does get underway, it could still take a long time to reach any conclusions. 

The Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war took seven years from it being announced to its report being published..

The Bloody Sunday inquiry took 12 years.

For Jo Goodman, and the other members of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, there’s still a long way to go to get the answer to that question that unites them.

But witnesses will eventually be called to give evidence under oath, which means ministers and officials will have to account for the decisions they made.

So the families have already won the fight for true accountability.

Today’s episode was written and mixed by Imy Harper.