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Families told Covid inquiry set to start next year

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Families of Covid victims have been told by the new chairman of a public inquiry into the pandemic that he hopes to start hearings next year.

pursueing their first meeting, they praised the "empathy and compassion" of judge Lord Brailsford.

He was appointed to succeed Lady Poole after she quit the Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry last month.

The solicitor for the Scottish branch of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice said the meeting was positive.

Aamer Anwar said: "The Scottish Covid Bereaved families welcomed the genuine empathy and compassion that Lord Brailsford showed them today, as they told him their heart-breaking stories.

"The families recognise the mammoth task faced by Lord Brailsford, but believe he has pressed the reset button on the Scottish inquiry and were heartened to learn that he hopes to commence hearings in 2023."

Mr Anwar said it was important Lord Brailsford worked closely with the UK Inquiry to ensure "no stone is left unturned".

He added that there should be "no hiding place" for those who took decisions that "needlessly cost the lives of thousands".

The group included Elaine Johnston, whose brother Robert Dorrian died in hospital in Irvine in February 2021

She told BBC Scotland that at the time the 57-year-old was deemed "too young" to receive the Covid vaccine.

After the meeting Ms Johnston told how Lord Brailsford shook the hand of everyone in the room.

She added: "There was 10 stories in there which was very harrowing to hear but he listened.

"He definitely cared and he made assurances that there's no place to hide this time.

"People are going to get asked the questions and they will have to give the answers, whether they want to or not. That's all we are asking for."

Helen Lee Keenan, whose father died in a care home in May 2020, shared her experiences with Lord Brailsford.

She said she was really impressed by the judge and added: "We all felt really comfortable with him.

"This meeting today has really boosted everyone."

Ms Lee Keenan hopes the inquiry will shine a light on some of the decisions taken in Scotland during the global health crisis.

She believes many of those who lost loved ones during the pandemic will not be able to move on until its findings are published.

Ms Lee Keenan said: "We are all just really hopeful that we can all get the answers and, going forward, lessons have been learned and this won't happen again."

Dr Alan Wightman, who lost his mother Helen to Covid at a care home in May 2020, thanked Lord Brailsford for meeting the group and for explaining how it would address the concerns of the bereaved relatives in a timely manner.

He added: "We offer our ongoing support to the inquiry in its preparations to fully investigate those matters of most concern to our membership."

The Scottish inquiry was set up by Holyrood ministers and will run alongside the UK-wide inquiry.

To date, it has cost taxpayers more than £2m.

It was set up to investigate areas such as pre-pandemic planning, the decision to go into lockdown, the supply and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) and how the virus was dealt with in care homes.

Families had previously told Deputy First Minister John Swinney they felt "betrayed" by the inquiry, which they said had promised to keep them front and centre.

When Lord Brailsford was appointed as inquiry chairman he acknowledged the "enormous responsibility" of the role.

He added: "The public are rightly looking for answers and no more so than the loved ones of the nearly 16,000 people in Scotland who died during this pandemic.

"I promise the families, that along with the inquiry team, I will work independently to establish the facts and ensure the inquiry thoroughly examines the decisions taken throughout the pandemic."

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