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Families who lost loved ones to Covid urge Nicola Sturgeon to trigger Scotland-only inquiry

© Jane Barlow/PA WireFirst Minister Nicola Sturgeon observes a minute's silence during the National Day of Reflection
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon observes a minute's silence during the National Day of Reflection

Families who lost loved ones to Covid have again urged Nicola Sturgeon to set a date for a public inquiry into the official handling of the pandemic.

A campaign group was disappointed when, in a meeting with the first minister, she refused to commit to a timetable and suggested a UK-wide public inquiry was still her preferred option.

Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice fear seeking a four-nations approach means nothing will happen for months despite a parliamentary vote for an immediate public inquiry in November.

Alan Wightman, of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, whose mother Helen died of coronavirus in a Fife care home, said: “The first minister said she will try again to get a four-nations approach but if she can’t get that she will commit to going for an inquiry in Scotland only. I was floored. I wasn’t expecting that.

“I reminded her of the vote in parliament in November for an immediate inquiry and that Health Secretary Jeane Freeman already tried for a four nations approach and didn’t get it.

“A four-nations approach is doomed from the start. Why would you waste time on that when you know the answer is going to be no?”

What just happened? Charities unite to demand public inquiry into how Scottish Government handled coronavirus pandemic

Almost 10,000 people have died of Covid-19 in Scotland, including more than 3,000 in care homes. MSPs voted for an immediate public inquiry in November and in recent weeks, we have reported how leading scientists and charities representing the most vulnerable Scots are calling for an inquiry to be announced as soon as possible to ensure urgent lessons are learned.

After MSPs voted for an inquiry, the health secretary wrote to the other nations inviting them to participate in a UK-wide inquiry, only to confirm on November 24 she had been unsuccessful.

She told parliament: “I regret that I have not had a response on that, so we will now begin to take steps.” It is not clear what steps, if any, have been taken.

Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, which has more than 3,000 members across the UK, has long campaigned for a public inquiry and the relatives’ group were last week given a one-hour audience with the first minister on Zoom.

Wightman, who led the meeting, said the group had hoped the first minister would commit to a timetable for an inquiry in Scotland. He said: “I wanted a date. Realistically, I didn’t have any expectation of getting one but I would have liked one. That wasn’t delivered. She only said an inquiry was a priority if she is re-elected, not the priority.”

Earlier this month, more than 20 civil society groups led by Amnesty International wrote to the first minister to demand a timetable for an inquiry.

Amnesty said they have not received a reply from Sturgeon.

Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty International’s Scotland programme director, said: “It is surprising the first minister is considering a four nations approach when her own health secretary indicated discussions were unsuccessful.”

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament last week Sturgeon said: “Given that we are about to break for an election, I think that it will be — I hope that the status of the virus will allow this — a priority for the incoming administration to get the public inquiry up and running. If that incoming administration is me and this government, we will take that inquiry forward as quickly as possible.”