Policy makers who presided over one of the worst public health failures in UK history during the Covid-19 pandemic must stand trial for corporate homicide, a leading lawyer representing bereaved families has said.
Aamer Anwar called for a “twin track” approach of fully independent, judge-led inquiries into government failures – and then for prosecutors in Scotland and England to set out what action will be taken against those responsible for unnecessary deaths.
A landmark inquiry led by two former ministers reported on Tuesday that “group think”, notions of British exceptionalism and a deliberately “slow and gradualist” approach meant the UK fared “significantly worse” than other countries.
At the beginning of the pandemic, when Covid-19 first emerged in China, MPs said the policy was to take a “gradual and incremental approach” to interventions such as social distancing, isolation and lockdowns.
They said this was “a deliberate policy” proposed by scientists and adopted by UK governments, which has now been shown to be “wrong” and led to a higher death toll.
Some of the families, of course, would refer to it as state-sanctioned murder.
– Lawyer Aamer Anwar
The Scottish Government will establish by the end of this year an independent inquiry into its own handling of the Covid pandemic.
A judge will also be appointed for a UK-wide inquiry by the same deadline.
However, Mr Anwar warned a “big battle” lies ahead, even after the inquiries, with an “army of lawyers ready to proceed with a defence of cover up, denial and apportioning blame to others”.
He said: “The families that instruct me, the legal approach we’re adopting is for a robust and independent public inquiry to take place. But secondly, those who took these decisions should be put on trial for corporate homicide.
“In any other circumstances, if an individual was admitted to hospital and released to a care home and subsequently the authorities became aware that the duty of care was not fulfilled, and as a result that individual died, that would be regarded in legal terms as corporate homicide.
“That’s exactly what’s happened to thousands of people across this country, thousands of people lost their lives because of inadequate decisions, because of deliberate decisions, because of cynical decisions.
“Some of the families, of course, would refer to it as state-sanctioned murder.”
Mr Anwar said it was “horrific” that the UK Government has not apologised to bereaved families over the deaths and said many fear lessons will never be learned if the inquiry process is allowed to drag on.
He said the government “lied and cheated its way” through the pandemic and “delivered death to the people of this country”.
“I suspect if Scotland had gone more its own way, we would have seen more lives saved,” he said.
“The first minister has acknowledged that her government made mistakes and that’s more than can be said for Boris Johnson.
“But the difficulty was that everyone was treating this a political matter. It was more than a political matter, it was about saving lives.”
A very new environment
Cabinet Office minister Stephen Barclay told Sky News’ Kay Burley the Government “did take decisions to move quickly”, including on vaccines, and that both scientists and ministers were acting on information they had at the time.
Mr Barclay, who was repeatedly asked to apologise for Government failings but did not, admitted he had “not had chance to read” the MPs’ report, which was circulated to Government departments, including his own Cabinet Office.
He said: “Of course there are going to be lessons to learn, that’s why we’ve committed to an inquiry, but the Government took decisions at the time based on the scientific advice it received, but those scientists themselves were operating in a very new environment where they themselves were learning about the pandemic.”
JUST PUBLISHED: we've just published our joint report with @CommonsSTC on Coronavirus: lessons learned to date.
Read the report and our recommendations here: https://t.co/fErxGr34go pic.twitter.com/hxLzG6c84O
— Health and Social Care Committee (@CommonsHealth) October 12, 2021
Scottish Labour’s health and Covid recovery spokeswoman, Jackie Baillie, said Ms Sturgeon and her ministers must be subjected to the same scrutiny as the UK Government through a Holyrood inquiry.
“Nicola Sturgeon ignored the same warnings as UK ministers and with the same tragic outcome,” she said.
“At crucial points in the pandemic the UK and Scottish Governments were in lockstep – acting too slowly in response to the danger and failing to warn the public of the risk.
“But while England will benefit from the findings of this robust and detailed report, Scotland has been denied early findings of its own.
“Nicola Sturgeon’s own MPs helped deliver this analysis at Westminster while in Scotland they dither and delay on making sure her decisions are put under the microscope. Scotland deserves better.”