This week has marked the end of module two of the Covid Inquiry in London. This module has been a particularly gruelling one for the families of the bereaved with appearances from the likes of Cummings, Hancock, Johnson and Sunak.
Why did I attend?
I decided to attend as many of the sessions as I could despite living 300 miles away in the North East. I lost my sister during lockdown when members of the government like Boris Johnson were fined for breaching lockdown rules. I still find it especially difficult that I couldn’t see my sister during her last Christmas while Tories were flouting the rules and partying hard. This is why it was so important for me to attend this inquiry.
I wasn’t alone in travelling – people came from all over the country for this – like Northern Ireland and Devon. It was great to see others from the North East too. We all agreed that we needed to do this to gain some kind of closure even if we weren’t convinced by a lot of the answers given by some of the participants.
The inquiry – Dominic Cummings
The inquiry took place at Dorland House in Paddington in the full glare of the world’s media. Families had to scramble for tickets as soon as they were released as they went in minutes… like for a huge gig that nobody really ever wanted to have to attend. Some people had forked out huge sums of money to be able to be there, but all felt it was worth it, me included. I did a mixture of protesting outside and sitting inside the inquiry. There was also a viewing room inside which had counsellors on hand to help anyone who was distressed by it all, of which there were many.
The televised version of the inquiry doesn’t show the viewing gallery’s reaction to the answers given. I found it very surreal to be sitting in the same room as Dominic Cummings which was, probably quite aptly, on Halloween – this definitely felt like some kind of horror show. As the appalling language used in the Whatsapp messages were discussed and put on the large screens there were gasps of disbelief and at other points there were people visibly getting upset. Unbelievably, Cummings defended his now famous trip to Barnard Castle as being completely reasonable and legal. He also discussed why he had helped Boris Johnson into power even though he thought he was unfit to hold this position. He said he had done this as the alternative was a second Brexit referendum. Unfortunately for the rest of us it also meant he was the one left to handle the Covid-19 pandemic.
Afterwards, Cummings agreed to meet with any family member who wanted to. I didn’t personally do this but I talked to others who did. Their summary was that he had tears in his eyes as he talked with them about the pandemic but they could not be sure as to how genuine he was being. On his way out a family member of the bereaved shouted out to him “this is the last time you will ever be relevant!”
I had tickets for the Matt Hancock appearance, but I could not get to this one due to the thick snow fall in the North East at the time so I relinquished them in the hope that one of the other families could use it. It appears that Hancock didn’t really have a plan for this pandemic and didn’t tell the truth very often according to Dominic Cummings. Hancock, of course, was captured on camera as being yet another member of the senior government not following their own social distancing rules by kissing his aide Gina Coladangelo in secret.
Next up at the inquiry was the one everyone had been waiting for – Boris Johnson. On the first day he was early for about the first time in his life and tried to avoid the families of the bereaved by turning up just after 7am in the dark (even Cummings had walked in through the families of the bereaved at a decent hour). Unfortunately, I missed him by one minute but others had caught him. I joined in with the others who booed him on the way out though.
On the second day I was ready for him though and got there for 6.45am. It was still pitch black but my sign lit up and read “Johnson partied while people died”. Myself and another woman, who had lost her father from Covid, managed to catch him sneaking in and shouted “shame on you”. Johnson kept his head down and quickly ran inside without looking at us once. It is well documented already that four of the Covid bereaved were thrown out of his inquiry after staging a silent protest by holding up signs that read – “the dead can’t hear your apologies”. I talked to the women afterwards who told me they knew they would be thrown out but that it was well worth it.
Johnson’s inquiry was quite different from the last one I had attended because people were much more upset with him. Some came out of the hearing crying their eyes out saying they couldn’t watch anymore. One woman in particular was shaking for a whole hour after coming out of the inquiry – she did so while carrying a sign that read “Boris killed my husband”.
I still can’t get my head around the fact that Johnson, himself, had been hospitalised with Covid yet still appeared to have had zero empathy for families of others with loved ones in the same situation with his partying during this period. His apology rang hollow for me and the families attending that day. Sorry he got caught more like? As for his insistence that Partygate had been overplayed – Channel 4 certainly didn’t seem to think so, basing its documentary in October on facts from the Sue Gray report. It is insulting that people like Johnson appear to only be out to restore their legacy during this inquiry.
The last person interviewed in this module of the inquiry was our now Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Monday. Let us not forget that he also got fined for breaking his government’s own rules by attending a party during lockdown. For Sunak, I had a sign which quoted the Chief Medical Officer’s Chris Whitty’s remark of “Eat out to help out the virus”. At the time, you didn’t have to be a scientist to question the safety of this scheme. My friend came to support on this day too and his placards had a quote that Sunak is alleged to have said during the pandemic of “Just let people die” along with another which read “Meet Eat, Die.”
Sunak appeared to have a lot of memory problems and kept saying he couldn’t recall many things but of course attempted to justify losing his WhatsApp messages. It is also interesting that Sunak put the vote on the Rwanda bill the very next day. Could this have been convenient timing to distract from his appearance at the Covid inquiry?
I am really glad that I attended many sessions of this module of the Covid inquiry. It felt therapeutic to be there with great solidarity throughout with the families of the bereaved. Unfortunately, our presence appears to have upset journalist Isabel Oakeshott who wrote an article in the Telegraph this week entitled “The Covid Bereaved have overplayed their hand”. I presume only someone who did not lose anyone during the pandemic could write such a cold-hearted article and not understand at all why people needed to protest at this event. Maybe her beloved politicians should have worked harder to handle the pandemic in a more appropriate fashion and not laugh in everyone’s faces by breaking their own lockdown rules in such a disrespectful way.