Almost four years since the country was first hit by the pandemic, Boris Johnson gave evidence last week to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry – apologising for the “pain” people suffered. PM Rishi Sunak will appear on Monday.
Despite the long-running investigation hearing from key players and costing millions, Kent families who lost loved ones have mixed feelings whether it will bring them closure in a world which has moved on from those troubled times.
Lindsay Ketcher lost her much-loved mum Sue Gordon early on in the pandemic on April 12, 2020 and is still haunted by the circumstances.
She said: “I had to say goodbye via video link to ITU, the funeral was socially distanced with only eight people allowed to attend, and we were not allowed to hug or comfort each other.”
Grandmother Sue, who lived in South Darenth, near Dartford, was just 60.
Lindsay added: “My sister was heavily pregnant and living in another country, my grandparents were in their 80s and unable to get to the crematorium without putting themselves at risk.
“They had to watch their mum and daughter's funeral via video link, as did most family and friends. Exactly one week later the Prime Minister’s staff were partying in Downing Street.”
The UK Covid-19 Inquiry has been set up to examine Britain’s response to and the impact of the pandemic to learn lessons for the future.
It started in June last year but made headlines last week as former PM Boris Johnson was the latest key figure called by chairwoman Baroness Heather Hallett to give two days of evidence.
He apologised for “the pain and the loss and the suffering of the Covid victims” but said he was “not sure” whether government decision-making had led to “materially” a larger number of excess deaths.
He admitted mistakes were “unquestionably” made and said he took full responsibility for all the choices made.
Lindsay hopes the inquiry will be able to give bereaved families like hers answers even if they will never fully know if things could have been different.
The 36-year-old added: “Many of us were denied the opportunity to grieve properly. We never fully got closure and still over three years on, we never got the chance to understand and be able to accept what happened fully.
“To have the revelations about the Downing Street parties, blasé statements, and WhatsApp messages felt like a slap in the face.
“The outcome of this inquiry is the closest thing some of us will ever be able to get to having closure.
“This is why the truth matters, those involved in decision-making during the pandemic need to put aside their political agendas and defensiveness and just tell us what happened.
“It is hard to hear Boris Johnson say ‘sorry’ repeatedly and then justify and defend his actions. Sorry will not cut it if he will not tell the truth and give us the answers we need.
“The bottom line is the inquiry is the closest many of us bereaved families will get to closure and is part of our bereavement journey, therefore we need and must get the truth and accountability.”
Rachel Walters’ partner of 38 years, Alan McNicol, 78, died in June 2020 and she, like Lindsay, is hoping the inquiry will bring closure.
The 58-year-old Rochester resident said: “It is not over for us, we want answers but I do not know if we are going to get them.
“There are a lot of people who were in the same situation as me. I do not think anyone got any closure.”
Son Taylor McNicol said his dad’s “charm and humour left an impression on everyone” and he “never failed to make people laugh”.
He is hoping the inquiry will answer the questions that never were three years ago. He added: “It does not matter how long it has been, I will always want the answers.”
But not everyone who lost someone during the pandemic thinks they will find out what they need to know.
Anna-Marie Hancox’s dad Geoffrey Richardson, 66, from Hythe, passed away in hospital on April 13, 2020.
“There is not going to be any repercussions,” she said, speaking about the inquiry. “I do not think I am going to get answers, I do not think my mum is going to get answers and I do not think we should expect answers.
“This is not going to bring him back and I do not think it will give anyone answers that will bring comfort.”
Gillingham resident Lisa Manley agreed. She lost her “wonderful” grandad Ken Wallin, 83, in 2020, and said he “should still be here”.
“I do not want to hear excuses,” she added. “I want to hear honesty and people owning what they did and I do not know if we will get that.”
Baroness Hallett is expected to publish the reports of the first part of the inquiry in the summer next year with further hearings taking place in the autumn.