Bereaved family members of people who have died from Covid met with Boris Johnson and called for justice with an inquiry into the pandemic, including why so many more deaths have been in the north, agreed.
On a rainy morning this week, five bereaved people mourning lost loved ones who died of Covid, filed into the Rose Garden at Number 10 Downing Street to meet the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.
Among them was Hannah Brady, daughter of Shaun, a factory worker from Wigan, Greater Manchester, and granddaughter of Margaret Brady, who died in a care home while her son was in intensive care.
“I said to the prime minister, ‘I believe you were 55 when you caught Covid and were in intensive care – my dad Shaun was 55 when he caught Covid and died’,” said Hannah.
“I told him how dad passed away, and the things I think contributed to that, and the mistakes still happening today. I told him: ‘This is how badly you messed up’.
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“I showed him my favourite photo of my dad, and then a picture of him on a ventilator. I’ve never shown that photo to anyone before. I didn’t want the other families to see it because it would be too upsetting because of their own loved ones, so I just showed it to him. The only two people who have ever seen that photo are me and the prime minister.”
The heartbreaking irony of their Rose Garden meeting was not lost on Hannah or any of those representing the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group. It was the same place that a man in a white shirt sat at a trestle table in the May 2020 heatwave to give a now-infamous press conference about a trip to Barnard Castle.
“We were all conscious that a man had sat in that same garden not telling the truth,” says trainee teacher Hannah, 25, of Dominic Cummings ’ appearance. “We all felt the massive significance.
“This was a man who had written on a whiteboard ‘Who Do We Not Save?’ Well, it turned out, my dad was on that list. They didn’t save my dad or many, many other key workers.
“I was sitting where he was sat when he was telling all those falsehoods and we were there to speak our truth.”
The trip was emotionally exhausting for the family members, but they managed to get the PM to commit to appointing a Covid Inquiry chairman “before the end of the year”, as well as a string of other promises.
In last week’s Real Britain column, Hannah, and Matt Fowler, who co-founded the bereaved families’ group after losing his dad Ian, told of their anguish at having written to Johnson seven times without reply – and of being banned from the Conservative Party conference.
Within 48 hours an invitation had come from Downing Street to meet the prime minister on Tuesday lunchtime – accepted by Jo Goodman, the co-founder of the group, Fran Hall, Lobby Akinnola, Charlie Williams and Hannah. They were joined by Elkan Abrahamson, a lawyer who represented families affected by the Hillsborough stadium disaster.
Ian Vogler / Daily Mirror)
“I think the pressure we have put on helped lead to yet another U-turn,” Hannah said.
The families were also told having requests denied to attend the Tory conference was an “error”. Spokesman Nathan Oswin will now go, but not a bereaved family member.
Two days before her Downing Street visit, Hannah had been on the panel at our Real Britain fringe at the Labour conference, talking about her dad Shaun, an utterly decent man who hadn’t had a day off sick from the Heinz factory in Wigan in 22 years until he became ill with Covid.
She also shared the story of her feisty nan, Margaret, 80, who died of Covid complications after contracting the virus in a Wigan care home.
POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Matt, 33, spoke about his dad Ian Fowler, from Nuneaton, Warks, in whose footsteps he had followed to become a trainee engineer at Jaguar Land Rover. Ian was only 56 when he died in hospital.
Many in the audience were in tears as the pair spoke. The Metro Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, warned of the long journey faced by the bereaved families but told them, “I am with you”.
Both Ian Fowler and Shaun Brady were Unite the Union members, and Unite’s assistant general secretary, Steve Turner, pledged the might of his union to help keep the families’ fight for justice alive.
“Being at the Labour conference was a good experience,” Hannah says. “People who have lost loved ones to Covid have been very alone.
“That’s been the nature of Covid and the lockdowns, we’ve been cut off from each other. But the loneliness and isolation has continued with our campaign, when we can’t get responses from the Prime Minister or the Health Secretary or many MPs.
“We have been greeted by a lot of silence. It’s felt like only people who have lost loved ones have been bothered.
“Having the support of Unite and Andy Burnham meant a lot. They pledged publicly and privately that they would do anything they could to help.
“It does make you feel like someone is listening instead of just screaming into the void.”
Hannah returned to her home in Manchester with commitments from the Prime Minister to appoint the Inquiry chairman before Christmas, to hold a roving inquiry at different venues and examine why the North was so badly affected, and look into the causes behind the high death toll in Black and Asian communities. The bereaved families would also dearly like the PM to declare the Memorial Wall they have created near Parliament an official Covid memorial.
On this, Mr Johnson would only say “I support it, it is very moving”. Meaning the families’ campaign group will have to keep maintaining it.
The frustration for all the families is that it should have to be them pushing the government to learn the lessons of the Covid pandemic.
“I shouldn’t be here,” Matt told our conference fringe event.
Hannah added: “I shouldn’t have to tell my dad and my nan’s stories. It shouldn’t be people who are grieving fighting this fight.
“Covid affected every single part of society. But this week we made some progress, and got some promises and we will hold them to that.”