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Nicola Sturgeon and Jeane Freeman ‘could face criminal charges’ over Covid handling, says lawyer

NICOLA Sturgeon and Jeane Freeman could face criminal charges over the transfer of untested hospital patients into care homes during the Covid pandemic, a lawyer acting for bereaved families has claimed.

Solicitor Advocate Professor Peter Watson said it was “entirely feasible” that the First Minister and her former Health Secretary could be prosecuted.

Ms Sturgeon and Ms Freeman have already conceded it was a “mistake” for at least 1300 elderly patients to be moved into homes at the start of the pandemic.

At the time, hospitals wanted to free up beds in readiness for a wave of Covid cases.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney confirmed yesterday that judge Lady Poole would chair the public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic north of the border.

It will cover 12 areas, including pre-pandemic planning, lockdown, the supply and distribution of PPE and how coronavirus was dealt with in care homes.

Prof Watson has raised the state of infection prevention in care homes after the outbreak, with 3,292 deaths in care recorded between March and April 8 2020.

Responding to Lady Poole’s appointment, Prof Watson, of PBW Law, said: “On behalf of the families who lost loved ones in care homes as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, we welcome the announcement that there will be an inquiry led by Lady Poole.

“The crucial aspect of this inquiry is the fact that the Lord Advocate has the power to determine if any crimes have been committed.

“The instruction to transfer patients from hospitals back into care homes without any risk assessment, testing, or understanding of the consequences will be an area of particular concern to bereaved families.

“The First Minister and former cabinet secretary for health have previously admitted that mistakes were made. It is entirely feasible that criminal charges may be brought.

“We have reported our concerns in the past and will continue to press the Crown for answers.”

Prof Watson has previously been involved in the inquiry into the death of rally driver Colin McRae, the Piper Alpha oil disaster, and represented the families of 16 pupils in the Dunblane Primary School massacre.

He added: “This is now an opportunity for everyone affected by the failures in the care home sector, failures in the role and function of the Care Inspectorate and in the provision of medical services to care home residents to come forward and take part in this inquiry.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “The revelation that untested and Covid-positive patients were shipped out of hospitals and into care homes was one of the most jaw dropping moments of the whole pandemic.

“I hope that Lady Poole’s inquiry will leave no stone unturned and that she will be able to provide a degree of closure for the families because they deserve to know how ministerial decisions caused the virus to enter care homes.

“The First Minster, her health secretaries and senior officials should be prepared to give evidence to Lady Poole as part of the evidence gathering process.” 


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