Families who have lost loved ones to Covid-19 have told Scotland’s Deputy First Minister an inquest into their deaths “betrayed” promises to keep them at the center, a lawyer said.
John Swinney met a delegation of members of the Scottish group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice and their lawyer Aamer Anwar on Wednesday.
After the meeting, Mr Anwar said the families “believe Mr Swinney is a man of integrity” and accepted assurances that there was no political interference in the public inquiry.
However, the lawyer said his clients are demanding answers on how to deal with deaths from Covid-19.
The resignation of Lady Poole, who led Scotland’s Covid-19 inquiry, and four members of the legal team has prompted fears the inquiry could be delayed.
Mr Anwar said: “The bereaved will not participate in a ticking exercise and hope that a judge with a reputation for fairness, robustness, independence and compassion will be chosen to deliver truth and accountability.
“The families have felt as if they are on a sinking ship in the last few months.
“Just today they were told by Mr Swinney that 66 staff are working on the public inquiry but to this day the families have no idea what progress, if any, they have made.
“Of course the families respect that the independence of the judiciary must first be respected, but the bereaved told Mr Swinney that they believe they are entitled to the Lord President’s answers as to what went so wrong.
“There can be no further excuses for delays or errors.”
Mr Swinney told families he expected progress to be made by October 25, it was known.
dr Alan Wightman, chairman of the group, lost his mother to coronavirus caught in her nursing home in May 2020.
He said he hopes the inquiry will bring the truth to more than 10,000 people who have died from coronavirus in Scotland.
“I want accountability, I want lessons to be learned and I want a list of recommendations to be provided and implemented,” he said.
“Any alternate chairperson who cannot enforce respect and cooperation from families will find that their request lacks credibility.”
Mr Swinney said: “I am grateful to the representative of the group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Scotland for meeting with me today.
“The Scottish Government is keen to help ensure progress on the inquiry continues.
“I have today reassured the group that work to appoint a new Chair is progressing rapidly and that discussions are ongoing with the Lord President to arrange for a new Chief Justice to be appointed.”
An update will be given to the Scottish Parliament “at the earliest opportunity”, he added.
Scottish Conservatives’ health spokesman Sandesh Gulhane MSP said the bereaved had given a “scathing verdict” on the “complete lack of progress” in the inquiry.
He said: “They are desperate for answers and it is totally unacceptable that over 60 staff working on the investigation have not been able to update these families on the progress.
“It’s just scandalous that they feel like they were never put at the center of this investigation.”