The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group shared tragic stories of loss with Boris Johnson at a long-awaited Downing Street meeting
Boris Johnson delivered a “kick in the teeth” for the loved ones of 159,000 Covid victims after refusing to commit to making a poignant memorial permanent.
The Prime Minister met with five members of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK group at 10 Downing Street after more than a year of promising to do so.
Jo Goodman, Fran Hall, Lobby Akinnola, Charlie Williams and Hannah Brady said he listened as they finally told him face to face the tragic stories of losing their loved ones.
The Prime Minister committed to a chair of the inquiry being appointed before Christmas and that bereaved families would have input on the decision.
He also agreed that his government would engage with families around the need for enhanced bereavement support.
But the PM failed to make promises over the future of the public mural which has been dubbed the wall of hearts.
Stretching more than a third of a mile along the South Bank of the River Thames in London the mural consists of thousands of red and pink hearts, “individually hand-painted; utterly unique, just like the loved ones we’ve lost”.
Trainee teacher Hannah Brady, who lost both her dad and nan to Covid, told The Mirror: “We asked Boris if he would make the wall permanent.
“He said he could see it as a good candidate to be made permanent and very moving.
“But he would not commit to make it permanent, which is a kick in the teeth because you can see it’s fading.
“So we will continue to come down here and keep it alive as long as possible.”
Hannah’s dad Sean Brady, 55, died of Covid in May 2020 and her nan Margaret Brady died aged 80 in July in a care home in Wigan.
The 25-year-old from Wigan said her Heinz factory worker dad “died after 42 days on a ventilator, I never got to say bye.”
“I had to go into ICU and watch my dad pass away in front of me,” she said.
“I had to pay for my own support out of my inheritance.”
She said she has coped with her loss by putting “love and support” into the Justice for Families group “and the memorial wall” she said is “a peaceful and tranquil place.”
Jo Goodman, co-founder of the group said Covid memorials are “authentic and encourage people to understand the empathy and support that exists across the country for their grief, and give us a collective symbolise for our loss.
“Boris Johnson told us today that the National Covid Memorial was a ‘good candidate to be a permanent national memorial’ and that he ‘supports it’.
“Whilst these platitudes are all very well, what matters is that he now takes action. There is universal support for the National Covid Memorial Wall to be made permanent, and the Government must make it happen.
“Anything less would be extremely disappointing.”
Fran Hall married her partner Steve Mead on September 26 last year but unbeknown to them he had Covid and sadly died just weeks later on October 18, a day before his 66th birthday.
“It’s still like a bad dream,” the 60-year-old said, adding that she felt a “heavy responsibility” speaking to Mr Johnson on behalf of thousands of people.
She said the Prime Minister said he was sorry, but added “but words are easy”.
Lobby Akinnola’s dad Femi Akinnola, 60, died on April 26, 2020.
He acknowledged Mr Johnson listened to their stories but said “we want to see more action. People are still dying.”
“If it’s OK to lift restrictions, it [should be] OK to start the inquiry.”
Charlie Williams, 53, from Birmingham lost his dad Wex Williams, 85, on April 20, 2020, who was in a care home in Coventry.
He said he was “pleasantly surprised the PM listened to each and every one of us and made some commitments” but that “even today we don’t believe the PM fully grasps the urgency of this inquiry”.
A Downing Street spokesperson said Mr Johnson thanked the family members he met “for their powerful and painful accounts of how they lost their loved ones to Covid.”
“The Prime Minister said he would ensure that the public inquiry would get to the bottom of many of the questions that they, and thousands of others like them, have about the pandemic. He said it was critical to learn lessons and understand what happened in detail.
“The Prime Minister gave a commitment that the chair of the inquiry would be appointed by Christmas. He set out that for now it is right that public servants continue to focus their efforts on tackling the pandemic before moving on to the inquiry in the spring of next year.
“He welcomed the opportunity to hear from Bereaved Families 4 Justice on the areas they would like the inquiry to cover and the importance of choosing the right Chair and panel members, and reiterated that he takes full responsibility for the government’s handling of the pandemic.
“The Prime Minister welcomed the suggestion that the inquiry should hold hearings in different parts of the country.”