A Jewish lawyer who represented families of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster is leading the campaign for a public inquiry into the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.
Elkan Abrahamson, a solicitor at the Liverpool-based practice Jackson Lees, told the JC he hoped an inquiry would provide an “independent eye” to offer “less confrontational and more constructive” criticism of decisions the government is taking.
“Either the government is making wrong decisions and people are dying needlessly as a result, or they’re making right decisions, but they’ve lost the trust of the public — so their guidance is being ignored and people are dying needlessly as a result,” he said.
He added that he hoped the government accepted his call before the country had to face a second spike in infection, something which “they haven’t really given us a proper, detailed roadmap” for.
“Now they’ve got the experience, they should be able to produce a very detailed, cohesive plan if the figures start rising in particular areas.
“The more specific they can be and the more they can tell you in advance what the plans are, the greater the chance of carrying the public with them.”
Asked about the potential deaths caused by a lockdown-induced recession, Mr Abrahamson agreed it was the job of the government to perform the “grim calculus” over which situation would result in more lives lost, but wanted to make sure that in future, important decisions — such as when children should return to school, and what restrictions should be placed on air travel — were based on expert advice considered in a transparent way.
He said that the government had been “secretive” with their decision-making process — pointing to the initial decision to hide the names of those on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) panel. He said he “cannot see the need for such secrecy.
“This isn’t, I think, a case where the government can say there are security concerns.
“For instance, I’m representing families in the Manchester Arena inquiry and the government will say ‘well we can’t tell you everything about our security system for monitoring suspected terrorists because we don’t want them to learn our secrets’, and I understand that — that’s fair enough. But when you’re talking about a pandemic, I don’t think that same logic applies.”
While there will be a time in a few years to look at how the government has handled the crisis, that “takes up a lot of resources that could be better used elsewhere”, he said.
However, an inquiry could compel the government to preserve documentation for that eventuality. There have been reports of senior government officials, including Boris Johnson, communicating using the Signal app, which automatically deletes messages after a given period.
Mr Abrahamson said he had been motivated to launch the campaign by the stories of “individual tragedies” which “can’t help but affect you.
“There’s just so much misery and sadness around and people I think need help.” If the Prime Minister refused his request, he said he would consider challenging the decision with a judicial review.
Mr Abrahamson, who lives in Liverpool, described himself as ethnically Jewish. Though not religious like his family, he attended the now-defunct Jewish boarding school Carmel College.