BEREAVED families have urged Holyrood politicians to “do better” than their Westminster counterparts as the Scottish stage of the UK Covid Inquiry begins.

Hearings for the probe are set to take place over three weeks in Edinburgh as the Inquiry looks at decisions made in Scotland throughout the pandemic, between early January 2020 and April 2022, when the remaining Covid-19 restrictions were lifted in Scotland.

Former first minister Nicola Sturgeon is among Scottish politicians expected to give evidence in the next few weeks. 

The relationship and intergovernmental workings with the UK Government will also be under scrutiny, as well as the “reasonableness” of the Scottish Government’s divergence from decisions being taken in Westminster, the probe heard.

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Speaking during the opening session of the Edinburgh hearings Claire Mitchell KC, on behalf of the Scottish Covid Bereaved, reflected on evidence given by former prime minister Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, and current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during earlier hearings held in London.

Mitchell argued that when Johnson and other Tory ministers were “presented with evidence or asked to comment on issues not in their favour”, the explanations were tendered “would strain the belief of even the most gullible”.

Describing Johnson’s contributions as “philosophical spin”, Mitchell added: “Both he and Mr Gove seemed interested in exploring a topic, the source of the pandemic, that was not within the scope of the inquiry, terms indeed which Mr Johnson had set.

“A red herring, which the press ate up.”

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Mitchell (above) added: “Our present Prime Minister, Mr Rishi Sunak was able to remember very little of some very important decisions and conversations that took place when he was present.

“But on more solid ground, he was able to point to the detail of evidence which supported his position, his recollections were clear.”

The KC added that families wanted to send a “loud and clear” message to politicians that “they want better”.

“On behalf of their relatives, they deserve better,” she told the Inquiry.

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“They want politicians to answer questions put to them directly, to reflect upon their time during the pandemic and they want them to wholly engage in the process of finding out what happened, putting politics and political careers aside.

“The work of this Inquiry is more important.

“Considered and careful reflection on what went wrong, what went on, and how things could have been done better, may literally save lives in the next pandemic.

“We ask that politicians in particular remember this when they come to give evidence.”

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Mitchell pointed to media reports surrounding WhatsApp messages sent between Scottish officials during the pandemic not being retained, an issue she said was of “considerable concern” to bereaved families.

She added that the group was “looking forward” to hearing how politicians and civil servants would justify messages being deleted and the argument that final decisions were not taken via the messaging service.

The group is being represented by solicitor Aamer Anwar, who gave a statement before proceedings began.

Earlier, the lead counsel to the Inquiry Jamie Dawson KC, told the probe that the Scottish Government had handed over 28,000 messages. This included correspondence in 85 messaging groups as well as exchanges between individuals, including those in “prominent ministerial roles”.

He added that the content of these messages will be put to witnesses during the coming weeks. 

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Dawson opened proceedings by setting out the evidence heard by the Inquiry so far and the issues the probe will be investigating in the coming weeks.

He said he wants the latest inquiry module to help “understand the decisions which were taken” by the Scottish and UK governments, “why they were taken, in order ultimately to assess whether they were reasonable, evidence-based and in the best interest of the people of Scotland”.

Dawson said where these decisions “appear not to have been” made reasonably, he will seek to “explore what might have been done better to achieve these aims.”

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Relations with the UK Government, devolution and constitutional issues will come under scrutiny throughout the probe, as well as key components of the Scottish Government’s strategy, ranging from NHS capacity and care homes to border controls and schools.

The way information and health messaging was formulated and disseminated will also be put to witnesses, as well as the rationale behind the policy, particularly after Scotland began to diverge from Westminster and its effectiveness.

The inquiry, before chairwoman Baroness Heather Hallett, continues.