Boris Johnson has finally officially opened the Covid public inquiry – just two days after families threatened legal action over delays.
The Prime Minister said in a written statement that the official probe into how his government handled the pandemic would get underway today.
He had pledged the inquiry would get underway in “spring 2022”, but despite former Court of Appeal judge Heather Hallett being picked to lead the inquiry some six months ago, Mr Johnson had failed to act.
“The UK inquiry into Covid-19 is now formally established and able to begin its important work,” he said.
News the inquiry has officially started comes just two days after the campaign group Covid 19 Families For Justice declared they were prepared to launch judicial review proceedings.
Hannah Brady, who lost her father Shaun to the virus and is now a spokesperson for campaigners, said: “After over two years of campaigning today is a special day for thousands of bereaved families from all corners of the country.
“Finally we can begin the process of learning lessons from the awful suffering we’ve endured to that we can move forward with our lives and protect others in the future.
“However it is pitiful that after six months of inexplicable delays, the Government has finally decided to act just two days after we announced that we were considering a judicial review over their time wasting.
“It goes to show that they were simply delaying the process for as long as they could get away with, and there are going to have to be serious consequences if valuable evidence has been lost as a result.”
Elkan Abrahamson, head of major inquests and inquiries at Broudie Jackson Canter, which represents more than 1,000 families from the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, said: “I am relieved that this has finally started the process towards an inquiry, albeit very late for the thousands of bereaved families waiting for this day.
“It is unfortunate that we had to threaten a Judicial Review for the Prime Minister to do anything about it.
“We will now be discussing with the Inquiry how we can achieve some form of justice for all of those who tragically lost their lives.”
The inquiry is expected to be embarrassing for the government in the wake of the Partygate scandal. Ministers are also expected to face heavy criticism over the Eat Out To Help Out scheme, lockdown delays and failures to protect care home residents from the virus.
Mr Johnson’s statement also confirmed the inquiry’s terms of reference.
They will include: preparedness and resilience; how decisions were made, communicated, recorded, and implemented; decision-making between the governments of the UK; the roles of, and collaboration between, central government, devolved administrations, regional and local authorities, and the voluntary and community sector; the availability and use of data, research and expert evidence; legislative and regulatory control and enforcement.
The Prime Minister also said he would approve two panel members who would assist Baroness Hallett.