UK Covid-19 Inquiry Module 2: Pete Weatherby KC criticises Government’s preparation, approach, and handling

3 October 2023

In his opening submission to Module 2 of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, Pete Weatherby KC criticised the Government’s preparation, approach, and handling of the Covid-19 Pandemic, as well as highlighting the accounts of the 7,000 members of the Covid Bereaved Families for Justice group his team represents.

Throughout his speech, Pete highlighted the shortcomings of the then Government including the ‘indecision, dithering and delay’ as well as the ‘incompetence’, all of which he said the families he represents count ‘in the numbers of their loved ones who died.’

‘Their stories show how these failures really impacted.’

Pete began his submission pointing to evidence suggesting that the looming pandemic was not prioritised, with the Government instead focussed on Brexit and “levelling up”.

As in Module 1, Pete again highlighted the lack of a whole-system response and the impact that may have had on increasing the total number of deaths.

He pointed out apparent complacency from the former health secretary Matt Hancock who, in a WhatsApp exchange on 25 January 2020, claimed the government had ‘full plans up to and including pandemic level regularly prepped and refreshed’. Pete observed that it will be ‘interesting to see how [Mr Hancock] squares that assertion with his Module 1 assessment that the UK level of preparedness was “woefully inadequate”.’

In terms of other crucial phone messages, Pete termed the fact that correspondence from the phone of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson between 31 Jan and 7 June 2020 were unrecoverable as a ‘remarkable and unfortunate coincidence’. Pete urged the inquiry to commission experts to see why this was the case and if messages from that period had, in fact, been deleted.

Perhaps another unfortunate coincidence, or as Pete said ‘moving the goalposts to avoid criticism’ was the Government’s downgrading of the designation of COVID from a high-consequence infectious disease (HCID) meaning that standards of PPE required when treating patients were reduced – in line with healthcare guidance. This decision to downgrade was made apparently without consultation with SAGE scientists. And in terms of the government’s relationship with scientific advisors, Pete suggested that there is an inference from evidence that certain ministers were ‘not so much following the science as wanting cover from scientific advisors for shortcoming in provisions’.

In this module, the inquiry will hear from former Government members including the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson who Pete suggested will try to paint a rose-tinted account of the pandemic. However, Pete said that the 7,000 families he represents provide 230,000 reasons why Mr Johnsons “we didn’t do too badly” opening gambit should be rejected.

Pete Weatherby KC and Anna Morris KC lead the team representing the Covid Bereaved Families for Justice UK group in Module 2 of the Inquiry, which includes GCN’s Kate StoneCiara BartlamMira HammadChristian Weaver and Lily Lewis. Also on the team are Garden Court Chambers tenants Allison Munroe KC (Modules 1 and 3) and Thalia Maragh, Jesse Nicholls from Matrix Chambers, Oliver Lewis from Doughty Street Chambers and Tom Jones from Deka Chambers. The team is instructed by Elkan Abrahamson, Nicola Brook, and Emma Beckett, Broudie Jackson Canter

Watch the hearings via the UK Covid-19 Inquiry YouTube channel, including a live stream.

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