‘Skill set of a clown’: Covid bereaved frustrated by Boris Johnson evidence | Covid inquiry #Skill #set #clown #Covid #bereaved #frustrated #Boris #Johnson #evidence #Covid #inquiry

From the moment he slipped in at dawn, before most of the bereaved who planned to confront him had arrived, to his departure in a hail of boos, Boris Johnson’s first appearance at the Covid-19 public inquiry proved by turns frustrating and enraging for many.

Families who squeezed into a packed hearing room in west London to see him finally testify about the key decisions that preceded their loved ones’ deaths observed what they described as a “casual, careless and chaotic” former leader.

Many of the dozens of families who had travelled to see Johnson in the witness box simply wanted accountability so that the tragedies that had befallen them were not repeated in future.

But once the hearing began, Johnson seemed to be obfuscating and deflecting, the latest decision-maker whose testimony was shaded by the calculus of political reputation management. To some he seemed deluded and his account suggested he had little better grasp of the crisis in its opening weeks than the general public.

He quickly apologised for “the pain and the loss and the suffering of the Covid victims”, but Aamer Anwar, a solicitor representing the Scottish bereaved group, said that could not accepted by many. “He also claimed his government saved thousands of lives, and that, for many, is a grotesque distortion of the truth,” he said.

Lobby Akinnola, a spokesperson for UK Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said the evidence the inquiry had heard about the early weeks of the pandemic had been “worse than what the bereaved families feared was happening at the time”.

Charlotte Lynch with a picture of her mother
Charlotte Lynch with a picture of her mother. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

“Back then, we were often criticised for being unfair on the government when we raised concerns,” Akinnola said. “It’s clear now we weren’t being anywhere near critical enough. Johnson may try to bluster and justify his decisions, but the proof is irrefutable … Everyone in the country has, in some way, been let down by Johnson’s handling of Covid-19.”

The day started with dozens of the bereaved assembling outside the inquiry with pictures of loved ones. Alongside them were long Covid patients in wheelchairs, campaigning lawyers, trade union activists and a gaggle of media. The families parked up bearing a poster with Johnson’s face and the words “The bodies did pile high” – a reference to a phrase the former prime minister is alleged to have used as he argued against further lockdowns in autumn 2020.

But Johnson had slipped in early, avoiding the worst of the opprobrium he might have faced. “It’s another kick in the teeth,” said Charlotte Lynch, 32, from Kent. “He has come before 7am because he doesn’t want to face us. That’s all I wanted – for him to see my mum’s photo.”

Lynch was holding a framed picture of Sue Lynch, 67, who died from hospital-acquired Covid in the second wave in March 2021, after Johnson had faced huge criticism for delaying action to restrict the spread of new, more virulent variants.

“We all know he was disorganised and disdainful, but I wasn’t aware how casual, careless and chaotic he was,” said Anna-Louise Marsh-Rees, who leads Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru. She said finally watching Johnson give evidence was “very surreal”. “It feels like he was living under a rock. How can we all have known what was going on in China and he was completely unaware of it?”

‘I just want answers’: bereaved families protest as Johnson appears at Covid inquiry – video

At the lunch break, clashing press conferences were held on the street outside as bereaved groups vied to make their case against Johnson in the strongest terms.

“Johnson’s government turned our care homes into killing grounds for the elderly” and on lockdowns “Johnson delayed and sided with death”, a spokesperson for Scottish Covid bereaved told the news cameras.

Back in the inquiry room, Hugo Keith KC, the inquiry counsel, challenged Johnson on why the first lockdown had not come sooner, given that he had been told the NHS faced overwhelming demand. Instead he had allowed thousands to gather at the Cheltenham festival. Johnson admitted “a certain amount of incoherence in our thinking”.

But even when he conceded failures, it was hard for many of the bereaved to grant him much credit. “I don’t think Johnson should be taking an oath. I think he should be taking a polygraph,” said Alan Handley, 72, from Staffordshire, who lost his wife, Susan, 69, in November 2020. He has been following the inquiry as if it were a full-time job and had come to London to see Johnson.

Victoria Morgan and her father, Alan Handley
Victoria Morgan and her father, Alan Handley. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

His daughter, Victoria Morgan, said of the inquiry revelations so far: “It’s really painful, the constant rubbing of salt into our wounds, confirming what we already know – the lies.”

Yvonne Fryer, from Dartford, who lost her husband, Miltos Petridis, 58, in April 2020 and watched Johnson from inside the inquiry room, said: “He didn’t come across as someone with more expertise or a better understanding of events than the rest of us. He wasn’t up to the job.”

She said his evidence seemed contradictory and he didn’t seem prepared. In fact, he appeared deluded, Fryer said. “Lee Cain [the former Downing Street director of communications] said this person didn’t have the right skill set, and I agree,” she said. “If we wanted someone with the skill set of a clown, he was fantastic for that, but nothing of a serious nature.”

Kathryn Butcher
Kathryn Butcher: ‘I want to make sure my family is protected from this happening again.’ Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

Kathryn Butcher, 59, from Wimbledon, had brought a laminated picture of her friend’s son Jake Corser, 15, who died in July 2020, and one of her sister-in-law Myrna Saunders, 56, who died in March 2020. She had come because “I want to make sure my family is protected from this happening again”, she said.

“Today is probably the hardest [day] for me so far because of the [first] late lockdown,” Butcher said. “Had it come when it should have come, there’s a chance [Myrna] would not have caught Covid. That was Johnson’s decision.”

At just after 5pm, Johnson left in a BMW to boos from the bereaved. Some yelled: “When are you going to start telling the truth?” Others shouted “Liar.” Johnson returns for a second day of cross-examination on Thursday. Many of the bereaved will be back too.

#Skill #set #clown #Covid #bereaved #frustrated #Boris #Johnson #evidence #Covid #inquiry

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