Grieving Brits share tragic losses suffered when PM held Number 10 garden event

Furious Brits have shared their heartbreaking stories of grief and death that took place as Boris Johnson was mingling in his garden during the first lockdown.

Yesterday the Downing Street lockdown-party scandal gained another chapter when a photo of the Prime Minister, his wife and more than a dozen other people emerged.

It shows them in the garden of Number 10 drinking wine and eating cheese in the May sunlight.

The picture would be innocuous enough, were it not for the fact that a strict lockdown designed to stop the spread of Covid-19 was in force at that point.

As much as Boris Johnson has argued that the meet-up was allowed as it was work-related, many have suggested it is against the spirit of lockdown laws and its tone jarring when the terror of the first wave is recalled.

Boris Johnson said the photo showed a work meet-up

Steven Catchutch remembered how few people were allowed to his dad’s funeral around the time the sunlit garden party was held, due to strict social distancing laws.

“Eight people at my dad’s funeral, including the vicar,” he wrote.

“We had a row each, mum stood on her own. Youngest daughter an hour up the road at uni was not allowed to travel to attend.

“I had to drive my mam to funeral myself. There was no wake. But we don’t matter to them do we.”

A woman called Amanda endured a trio of tragedies during the first wave, including the very slimmed downed funerals of her dad and grandad.

“I had to watch my mother-in-law’s funeral via a video link because we were following the rules set by the people who did this,” she added, referring to the Downing Street meet-up.

On the day that the cheese and wine social took place, Dr Ajay Verma, a gastroenterologist, held a tribute in a hospital ward for Covid victims.

He said: “On Friday 15th May 2020 at 1pm we held a minute’s silence on our ward (and throughout our hospital) in memory of those who died from Covid – little did we know that the PM & friends were enjoying a garden party that same afternoon.”

Ruby Jones had to say her last goodbyes over Zoom

On the same day, Emma Jones lost her 18-year-old daughter Ruby Fuller to cancer.

The teenager was forced to say her last goodbyes over Zoom due to strict restrictions in force at the time.

Ms Jones said she is “insulted” and feels like the group are “trying to get off on a technicality” after Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said the photographs showed “staff having a drink after a busy set of work meetings and the pressures of the day”.

Just three weeks before, Ruby was told there was nothing doctors could do to treat the blood cancer she had been fighting against for 18 months.

Her family did not hold a funeral for her as restrictions meant only 10 people would be allowed to join.

Ms Jones, from south London, said: “At the time, it was so hard and so desperately sad but that’s what we had to do. It’s so insulting to see those pictures.

“We were supposed to be in it together, and it was very hard. I know other families that it was harder for. We were lucky Ruby was at home.”

She added that her daughter stayed home instead of having life-prolonging treatment in case she was taken to hospital where visiting was restricted, but not everyone had those options.

Ms Jones said: “I just want Boris Johnson and his Cabinet and the people in those pictures to acknowledge it and apologise.

“They’re trying to get away with it on a technicality. This, in particular, hit home as it was the day she died, when

“I desperately wanted to see my sister and my parents and give them a big hug and I wasn’t able to.

“How dare they act so nonchalant about it? It’s insulting. The impression they give is that they know what they’re doing but they don’t care and will lie through their teeth.”

Susie Flinham, 44, from Sunderland, said since seeing the photographs of the Prime Minister and his staff in Downing Street’s garden, she has suffered nightmares and flashbacks of visiting her father in hospital for the last time.

Howard Crozier lost his life to Covid-19 in March 2020, and a funeral was held for him on April 15 and was attended by just Mrs Flinham and her husband.

Many were unable to attend funerals due to strict limits on attendees

She said she had not seen her father for a number of days due to restrictions on hospital visiting when she was called and told he would be given end of life care.

Mrs Flinham said: “I had to go to the hospital. I saw him in 10-minute intervals and was in full PPE.

“He had Alzheimer’s and I don’t know if he recognised me. He was lucid and I don’t know if he knew my voice.

“Because of his condition, he was really struggling to breathe. I can imagine all of his energy was going on trying to breathe.

“A funeral is an acknowledgment of life and we couldn’t have that. Grief is isolating anyway, and we were already in an isolation.”

Mrs Flinham spoke about last Christmas, the first without her father, and said it was hard but recent reports of alleged parties held at Downing Street had “brought it all back” and she has been suffering from nightmares.

She said: “I had a nightmare last night and dreamt I was on dad’s hospital ward, it was really visceral.

“I’m sure there are other people having flashbacks too. When I first heard about this party that took place the month after the funeral I broke down.

“This feels so personal and has brought it all back. The day the picture was taken people were denied seeing their dying loved ones and fewer people were allowed to funerals than in that garden.

“They are talking about bringing in strict mitigations but there are so many incidents where it is so obvious Number 10 and the Government don’t believe they apply to them.

The Government is facing many allegations of impropriety in regards to various parties held last year

“My first reaction was anger. How disrespectful to people who have lost loved ones and couldn’t say goodbye properly? I’ve been in tears ever since and don’t know what I’m supposed to do with it. How do you process that?”

Mrs Flinham said she does not accept the claims that the photographs showed a “work meeting”.

She added: “I can’t believe we’ve got people saying it’s clearly a meeting because they’re all in suits – that adds insult to injury.

“There are no pens, no work material. I taught in schools for 15 years and have been in meetings and I know what a meeting looks like, and that does not look like a meeting.

“The Prime Minister had been in intensive care with coronavirus – I don’t understand how someone who had been so very ill would think it was perfectly acceptable to break the rules. You would think there would be empathy there but all the way through this there has been no empathy.”

Mrs Flinham says she has been getting support from the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice since May 2020, which started as a small group but has now grown.

Jo Goodman condemned the action of MPs and ministers

She said the group is campaigning for an inquiry into allegations of parties at Downing Street when restrictions were in place.

Jo Goodman, a co-founder of the group whose father, Stuart, 72, died last April, told the Guardian: “It is exhausting for not only those of us who lost loved ones to Covid-19 but for everyone across the country who sacrificed so much to see the constant, flagrant disregard we have all been held in.

“We’re not sure how much more the prime minister expects us to take before he’ll accept that he has to be open with the public about these events.

“This supposed work meeting, with no pen, paper or laptop in sight (instead replaced with vital cheese and wine) shows that he presided over a culture of believing that the rules applied only to other people since early in the pandemic.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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