Are our official channels up to delivering the truth?

Thursday, 7th May 2020

Lawrence Bond, fit for work death, Kentish Town

Lawrence Bond, who collapsed in Kentish Town in 2017 on his way back from a Job Centre shortly after being forced off benefits

THERE is going to be a serious reckoning when the lockdown is lifted and the pandemic is thought to be under control.

But how best to conduct this? And are the official channels capable of properly investigating how failures may have contributed to the deaths of so many people?

Each death will come with its own unique circumstances and question marks. Some may be better answered at a public inquiry, while others could, theoretically, be probed in detail in a coroner’s court hearing.

The public inquiry into the Grenfell fire disaster is still labouring on, almost three years after the event. The 2015 “Spy Cops” inquiry – about police officers who infiltrated a campaign organisation – has been repeatedly delayed, and is not expected to conclude until 2023.

A public inquiry into the flaws in the government’s handling of tens of thousands of coronavirus deaths could conceivably take as long as anything up to 10 years, if not longer.

That is not acceptable for dozens of Camden families whose relatives are reeling from the sudden and, at times, inexplicable deaths of loves ones.

So many have contacted this newspaper with questions about decisions made in hospitals and care homes, the systemic failures to properly test staff and provide them with PPE.

Many will come to pin their hopes on the coroners court system, a system which has for many years been exposed as woefully inadequate.

Take Windrush victim Dexter Bristol’s inquest, where lawyers had to go to the High Court to overturn a coroner’s decision not to call witnesses from the Home Office and the Department for Work and Pensions.

Then there was the hearing for Lawrence Bond – who died on his way back from a Job Centre shortly after forced off his benefits by controversial DWP reforms. It lasted 10 minutes and heard from no witnesses at all. It is likely that coronavirus inquests will be conducted in the same fearful and functional manner.

Countless times grieving relatives have emerged from a coroner’s inquest feeling angrier and more upset than when they went in. An alternative forum is required. Something independent, something with real teeth and unafraid to point the finger where it is needed.

Virus legacy

NHS managers have for years been repeatedly urging patients not to come to A&E unless they have to.

It is a sign of the topsy-turvy times we are living in that they are now doing precisely the opposite.

The disclosures by the Royal Free hospital’s consultant cardiologist Dr Tim Lockie of a drop-off in heart attack patients is a worrying development. Many are arriving at hospital too late, and will be leaving with lasting disabilities as a result, or worse.

In March, the Whittington Hospital’s A&E saw 3,000 fewer patients than the 9,000-9,500 who attended at the same time last year.

When the coronavirus first hit staff in hospitals they were concerned that patients with other potentially more serious conditions could be neglected.

How many cancers may have been missed in their infancy? How many people have been suffering at home in pain, for fear of catching the killer disease? There will be thousands of them in Camden.

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