Politics

Covid inquiry documents could be shredded as there is 'no duty to cooperate', MPs fear


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On Tuesday, MPs heard officials had ‘no duty’ to preserve documents that could be imperative to the investigation, with some even suggesting documentation could already be ‘going missing’

There are fears that key documents relating to the Covid inquiry could be shredded or go missing
There are fears that key documents relating to the Covid inquiry could be shredded or go missing

Key documents relating to the long-awaited Covid inquiry could be shredded, MPs fear, as Boris Johnson has been “dragging his heels” over the investigation.

The inquiry into the Government’s handling of the Covid pandemic will be chaired by the retired judge Lady Hallett, with the terms of reference set to include the closure of schools through to shielding.

On Tuesday, MPs heard officials had “no duty” to preserve documents that could be imperative to the investigation, with some even suggesting documentation could already be “going missing”.

Margaret Aldred, Secretary of the Iraq Inquiry (2009-16), chaired by the late Sir John Chilcot, said at the live evidence session: “It would have been open to the Cabinet Secretary to instruct government departments to preserve all relevant records.

“The question instruction could have been issued quite a long time ago.”







Boris Johnson has been ‘dragging his heels’ over the investigation
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Image:

REUTERS)

Elkan Abrahamson, a director and head of major inquests and inquiries at Broudie Jackson Canter, and is the solicitor representing Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice noted the PM has not even formally set up the inquiry yet.

“Until the inquiry is formally set up, there’s no duty to preserve documents, there’s no duty to cooperate, because there’s no formal inquiry to cooperate with,” she told MPs.

“That, to me as a lawyer, is an enormous concern, because I’m sure information and documentation is already going missing.”

Tory, Labour, Lib Dem and Green MPs have urged Mr Johnson to publicly confirm if Government departments have been instructed to preserve evidence which may be of use for the inquiry.

The PM has already broken his pledge for the inquiry to begin within this Parliamentary session after Parliament was prorogued on Thursday.







The inquiry hasn’t been set up yet
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Image:

NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Layla Moran MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, said: “The combination of the Prime Minister dragging his heels on starting this inquiry and his own conduct during the partygate scandal, has raised concerns that documents vital to this inquiry could conveniently go missing.

Justice for those we lost and vital learnings from this catastrophe must be prioritised over the already soiled reputation of this Prime Minister.”

Tory Dr Dan Poulter, Vice-Chair of the APPG said: “Everyone in the country has been touched by this pandemic and they have a right to expect that lessons will be learned and people will be held responsible for mistakes and bad decisions.”

It is not yet known when the terms for reference for the Covid inquiry will be signed off and when the proceedings could begin.

The MPs have urged Mr Johnson to confirm the interim findings of the inquiry will be published before next general election.

Last month Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis refused to accept that evidence for the planned Covid-19 inquiry has been lost, as Labour pushed for reassurances that ministers’ private WhatsApp messages will not be deleted.

Mr Ellis told MPs that public hearings of the inquiry into how the Government dealt with the pandemic will now begin in 2023, amid concerns about private digital messages being lost ahead of evidence-gathering throughout this year.

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