By Democrat reporters
Nicola Sturgeon was told “the dead cannot speak for themselves, but their families deserve the truth” after her evidence at the UK Covid Inquiry.
The former first minister was grilled about Scotland’s pandemic preparations in the years leading up to 2020 and admitted that “we did not get everything right”. Her former deputy John Swinney also gave evidence, saying the failures “keep him awake at night”.
At one stage, Ms Sturgeon was rebuked by lead counsel Hugo Keith KC after she attempted to blame Brexit for the decision to scale down preparatory work. He told her sharply “this is a witness box, not a soap box”.
Speaking on behalf of the Scottish Covid Bereaved, lawyer Aamer Anwar said there were far tougher questions to come about issues such as the scandal of care home deaths in Scotland and the shortage of PPE for frontline workers. By the end of March 2021 there had been 3,774 Covid deaths in Scottish care homes.
He said: “It matters not one bit to the bereaved if care home deaths happened in London, Manchester or Glasgow – the policy of discharge of the untested was ultimately a death sentence.
“The families want to know whether the Scottish Government blames Westminster or if they were in agreement? Did they fail to follow the science? Or did they march a few steps behind Boris Johnson into his carousel of chaos?”
Mr Anwar said it was clear that resources were diverted from pandemic planning to getting ready for a no-deal Brexit. He described that decision as a “false economy”.
Mr Swinney, right, was later questioned about the “alarming sluggishness” of implementing recommendations for pandemic planning, which were still not in place after seven years.
Mr Anwar said: “The vulnerable and those impacted by inequality and austerity formed little or no consideration in the minds of those who were responsible for planning for a pandemic, as a result thousands died
“The families watched Ms Sturgeon and Mr Swinney give evidence but they want more than empty words of sympathy, they hope that Ministers and Civil Servants to finally admit their mistakes and work together to prepare us for the next, inevitable pandemic the families simply want truth and accountability and today is just the start.”
On Wednesday, former health secretary Jeane Freeman claimed there was no shortage of PPE in Scotland despite widespread evidence to the contrary. However, the lawyer said the families had been “left aghast” by her evidence.
He said: “Many front-line workers gave their lives trying to save ours, whilst our leaders were asking us to clap those workers on our doorsteps every week.”
Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: “True to form, Nicola Sturgeon tried to blame something or someone else for Scotland’s lack of preparedness for the pandemic – her default response to any criticism.
“So it was encouraging to see the inquiry KC stop the former First Minister in her tracks by swiping away her soapbox. Covid posed an unprecedented challenge for governments around the world – and all will have lessons to learn from it.
“In the SNP’s case, one of the questions they must answer is over their release of Covid-positive patients into care homes. On such a serious subject, Nicola Sturgeon should stick to defending her government’s actions rather than political point-scoring.”
During her evidence, Ms Sturgeon said she “deeply regrets” having to divert resources from emergency planning to plan for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.
She said: “We had no choice but to do that planning. I deeply regret any consequences that had for our emergency planning in other areas.” Questioned if this was a “false economy”, she said: “I think every aspect of Brexit has been a false economy.”
She also said: “Every day the government I led did our best to take the best possible decisions but equally we did not get everything right.”
As she began giving evidence, she offered her “sympathies and condolences to all those who suffered as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic”.
Ms Sturgeon added: “The pandemic may be over but for many people their suffering continues and there is not a day that passes that I don’t think about that.”