A RECK­ON­ING OVER CARE HOME DEATHS

Law chief de­mands pros­e­cu­tors are handed de­tails of virus fa­tal­i­ties – paving way for in­quiry and po­ten­tial le­gal ac­tion

Scottish Daily Mail - - Front Page - By Rachel Wat­son Deputy Scot­tish Po­lit­i­cal Edi­tor

THE death of ev­ery care home res­i­dent in Scot­land who fell vic­tim to coro­n­avirus will be in­ves­ti­gated by pros­e­cu­tors.

A ded­i­cated unit has been set up by the Crown Of­fice, Lord Ad­vo­cate James Wolffe, QC, con­firmed yes­ter­day.

The team will also examine the Covid-19 deaths of NHS and care home staff, emer­gency crews and pub­lic trans­port work­ers.

The unit will de­ter­mine whether to hold fa­tal ac­ci­dent in­quiries – and the pos­si­bil­ity of crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tions was not ruled out.

Care home chiefs say any in­quiries must also look at how na­tional pol­icy on per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment (PPE) and test­ing af­fected the death toll.

Last night, le­gal ex­perts warned the Scot­tish Govern­ment could face a flood of civil cases from be­reaved fam­i­lies – as rel­a­tives of vic­tims wel­comed the im­pend­ing probes.

Ge­orge Hill­house is fu­ri­ous that his mother, He­len Smith, was never tested for the virus.

She died last month, age 74, at the Al­mond Court care home in Drum­chapel, Glas­gow.

Mr Hill­house, 52, from Glas­gow, said: ‘I had to sit in pro­tec­tive gear and watch my mother

die. I was all on my own with no sup­port be­cause of the re­stric­tions. Then we could not have the fu­neral she would have wanted. The Scot­tish Govern­ment took these things away from us.’

The for­mer nurse added: ‘I wel­come any­thing that sup­ports an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into care home deaths and al­lows peo­ple to po­ten­tially sue the Govern­ment. I think a lot of fam­i­lies will feel the same.’ It came on an­other dra­matic day when: n Ni­cola Stur­geon pledged to pub­lish a road map for eas­ing lock­down fol­low­ing ‘sus­tained signs of hope’;

■ Fig­ures showed more than 3,000 peo­ple have now died in Scot­land with con­firmed or sus­pected coro­n­avirus, ac­cord­ing to Na­tional Records of Scot­land (NRS);

■ Care home own­ers de­manded a huge rise in test­ing for staff and res­i­dents;

■ Fresh con­cerns were raised over Miss Stur­geon’s fail­ure to dis­close an out­break fol­low­ing a Nike con­fer­ence in Fe­bru­ary.

As well as the Crown Of­fice, the po­lice, Health and Safety Ex­ec­u­tive, Care In­spec­torate and coun­cils could be in­volved in in­ves­ti­ga­tions. At the start of March, the Lord Ad­vo­cate ruled out fa­tal ac­ci­dent in­quiries (FAIs) for Covid-19 deaths to avoid over­whelm­ing the NHS.

He said they should be car­ried out only if there was a sub­stan­tive rea­son for do­ing so, such as pub­lic anx­i­ety.

But at Holy­rood yes­ter­day, he told MSPs that all care home res­i­dent deaths linked to the virus must now be re­ported to the Crown Of­fice. He added: ‘Two cat­e­gories of Covid-19 or pre­sumed

‘Ev­ery death is an in­di­vid­ual tragedy’

Covid-19 deaths meet [pub­lic anx­i­ety] cri­te­rion... firstly, where the de­ceased may have con­tracted the virus in the course of their em­ploy­ment.

‘Se­condly, all Covid-19 or pre­sumed Covid-19 deaths where the de­ceased was res­i­dent in a care home.’

The Lord Ad­vo­cate said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion process would ap­ply ret­ro­spec­tively to rel­e­vant deaths. He added: ‘Where there are lessons that we can as a so­ci­ety learn, we will learn those lessons, know­ing as we do that ev­ery one of these deaths is an in­di­vid­ual tragedy.’

Dr Don­ald Macaskill, chief ex­ec­u­tive of um­brella group Scot­tish Care, wel­comed the move but called for in­quiries to also look at how Govern­ment pol­icy on PPE and test­ing af­fected the death toll.

He added: ‘We are ea­ger to con­tinue to give pub­lic as­sur­ance that the ac­tions of care homes have been en­tirely in ac­cor­dance with guid­ance is­sued at the time, and that all ap­pro­pri­ate clin­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion has been un­der­taken.’

Alis­tair Bon­ning­ton, for­mer hon­orary pro­fes­sor of law at Glas­gow Univer­sity, said: ‘The Scot­tish Govern­ment could be in the fir­ing line if they are found by the court to have a duty of care in law to­wards the de­ceased per­sons.

‘It would be dif­fi­cult for them to deny they have a duty of care, be­cause all these daft daily press brief­ings pro­ceed on the ba­sis the Govern­ment is in charge of the whole re­sponse to the out­break.’

Mr Bon­ning­ton claimed le­gal cases could re­late to the Nike con­fer­ence which led to an out­break – when de­tails were not made pub­lic.

He said: ‘The knowl­edge of the de­fender is al­ways rel­e­vant. If the Govern­ment con­cealed in­for­ma­tion about an early out­break, the re­sult would be a lack of aware­ness and a lack of prepa­ra­tion.’

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