No probes into Scotland’s 4888 care home covid deaths completed since criminal investigation launched

Not a single investigation into the thousands of deaths from Covid-19 in Scotland’s care homes has been completed since the criminal probe was launched almost two years ago.

The Sunday Mail can reveal that the Crown, which has already spent more than £1.5million, has failed to conclude any one of the 4,888 cases.

Many of the bereaved families, who have heard nothing from investigators, believe it could be years before they get to the truth.

Caroline Grattan said the government-sanctioned policy of discharging Covid patients from hospitals into homes could have been responsible for her 88-year-old mum Margaret’s death.

She said: “My heartbreak has turned to rage. I believe criminal negligence was responsible for many of these deaths but we are being totally betrayed by the authorities who promised us answers.”

Former lord advocate James Wolffe promised the investigation – which could lead to criminal prosecutions – in May 2020 in the face of public outrage at the failure to protect the most vulnerable people.

An 18-strong Crown Office team with a £1million-a-year budget insisted 19 months ago the work would be completed “relatively quickly”. But Police Scotland has refused to say how many officers, if any, it has dedicated to the investigations or whether government ministers and public health officials will ever be interviewed.

Aamer Anwar, lawyer for the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Group, said the probe was a “smokescreen” that will deliver “absolutely nothing”.

He said: “The so-called investigation is just another black hole at the Crown Office into which millions will be poured, delivering no results, no accountability and certainly no lessons learned.

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“Is it any wonder then that Police Scotland lack any transparency about their involvement? It looks increasingly like a smokescreen that, multiple years down the line, will deliver absolutely nothing, letting hospital and care homes completely off the hook.

“As for the Crown Office’s claim that families will continue to be kept updated, families whose loved ones died are telling us they’ve had one generic letter saying that matters are being investigated. Months have passed with no further contact. Letters remain unanswered and the families are rapidly losing faith.

“Let’s be realistic, there has never been any successful cases of corporate homicide in Scotland or a successful case of corporate homicide brought against the NHS in Scotland or in England and Wales.

“The bar for a successful prosecution is set so high that it makes it nigh impossible, even in the systemic catastrophic failures which led to the needless deaths of thousands in hospitals and care homes.”

The Sunday Mail revealed the shocking practice of sending untested Covid patients into care homes in April 2020, leading to then health secretary Jeane Freeman changing discharge rules within days.

At least 1,300 patients had been sent from hospitals to residential facilities to free up beds in wards, as the virus claimed thousands of lives.

Both Freeman and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon later admitted the policy was a mistake but, incredibly, in some cases allowed it to continue.

Solicitor advocate professor Peter Watson, who is representing some families whose relatives died, has said it is “entirely feasible” the pair could be charged over their role.

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Care home operators and public health officials could also be in the firing line.

Scottish Labor health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “Two years on from the start of the pandemic and families are still waiting for answers.

“We were promised these investigations would be carried out thoroughly and in a timely manner but, instead, we have families completely in the dark without any support. All efforts should be made to expedite these cases.

“The Crown Office needs to get in contact with grieving families directly to give them an update on timescales.”

Scottish Conservative shadow social care minister Craig Hoy said: “Scotland’s care homes bore the brunt of the pandemic and thousands of families are still grieving the loss of loved ones. The Scottish Conservatives have repeatedly called for an inquiry to find out the truth about what happened and the serious errors made.

“It is simply not good enough that investigations into care home deaths and elsewhere during this crisis appear to be making such slow progress.”

A Crown Office spokesman insisted the Covid Deaths Investigation Team was probing the circumstances of each death and would keep families updated on “significant developments”.

He said 18 staff had been allocated to the team, including nine lawyers, and that the new Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain had appointed dedicated Crown Counsel to provide direction and instruction.

Costs incurred during 2020-21 were £603,841 and the allocated budget for 2021-22 is £971,785.

The spokesman said: “The Covid Deaths Investigation Team will work with the relevant agencies to ensure that all necessary and appropriate inquiries are made as quickly as possible.”

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A spokeswoman for Police Scotland refused to say how many officers were dedicated to investigating Covid deaths or whether government ministers or public health officials would be interviewed.

She said: “For operational reasons, Police Scotland will not disclose how many officers are working on an investigation or who we have interviewed or intend to interview during it.”

A full public inquiry is also to be held into the pandemic and many families who lost loved ones intend to launch civil court actions.

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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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