Protests and tears as Boris Johnson appears at UK Covid inquiry

Former PM’s evidence disrupted by protests by pandemic victims’ family members

A distraught family member of a Covid-19 victim shouted at Boris Johnson, Britain’s former prime minister, that he was a “murderer” during the UK’s official Covid-19 inquiry in London on Wednesday.

Mr Johnson, who was in 10 Downing Street throughout the pandemic, gave the first of his scheduled two days of evidence to the inquiry in a nondescript government building near Paddington Station.

The blandness of the setting stood in sharp contrast to the highly charged atmosphere outside and inside the inquiry room, as the former prime minister apologised for his government’s failings. But he said it had done its best to combat Covid in unprecedented and challenging circumstances.

Upon his arrival at the venue, Mr Johnson was greeted by a media phalanx and also the faces of dead Covid victims, whose images were pinned to the railings outside. Victims’ family members thronged the public gallery, while anti-vaccine protesters held a noisy demonstration outside.


The inquiry’s chairwoman, Harriett Hallett, opened proceedings at 10am by telling participants that her work was being undermined by leaks to the press. Some of the main points of Mr Johnson’s evidence had been trailed in British newspapers in the run-up to his appearance.

As his close protection officers sat nearby, several family members of Covid victims disrupted proceedings and held up signs telling Mr Johnson that his apology couldn’t be heard by their dead relatives. Four of them were subsequently asked to leave by Ms Hallett.

As the inquiry broke for a short coffee break at about 11.10am, several family members stood up to shout insults at Mr Johnson, who gave no reaction.

It was the turn of the former prime minister to become emotional later in the afternoon, as the inquiry’s senior counsel Hugo Keith pressed him on whether he could have locked down the country earlier in March 2020.

“We have to be realistic about 2020, and the whole year, that whole tragic, tragic year,” said Mr Johnson, his voice cracking and his face flushed as he struggled to hold back tears.

Mr Johnson conceded to the inquiry that his government was too slow to act early in the pandemic. He claimed, however, that he had been more in favour of lockdowns than other members of the government.

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Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is London Correspondent for The Irish Times