‘Despicable’: Bereaved Covid families slam Johnson and Hancock over pandemic WhatsApp messages

Bereaved daughter and sister says her family members deserved so much more

Lydia Patrick
Saturday 04 November 2023 16:12 GMT

Related video: Covid inquiry roundup: Lee Cain and Dominic Cummings provide worrying insight into No 10

“Dad, you’re going to have to be stronger than you’ve ever been, there’s a horrible disease,” Jane Roche whispered into her father’s ear as an ambulance whisked him away.

Vincent Pettitt’s beard felt unfamiliar against his daughter’s face. She had not been allowed to visit her father’s care home for two weeks to groom him after the government enforced a nationwide Covid lockdown in March 2020.

Mr Pettitt, 86, had tested positive for Covid-19 and died in an overcrowded hospital side room five days later. His other daughter Jocelyn Pettitt, 54, died alone days later from the virus, six weeks before the birth of her grandson.

Mr Pettitt was one of 231,332 people who died due to the coronavirus, according to the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice. Some 30,000 of those died in care homes as the virus tore its way through patients as staff complained of a lack of PPE amid confusing advice on whether people entering homes should be tested for the virus.

This week, explosive evidence to the Covid inquiry from the government’s then chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance revealed Boris Johnson was “obsessed with older people accepting their fate and letting the young get on with life” to get the economy running again. He said the former PM believed it was “nature’s way of dealing with old people”.

Ms Roche says her father kept his dry sense of humour even when battling dementia

Simon Stevens, the former boss of the NHS, said the then health secretary Matt Hancock wanted to personally decide “who should live and who should die” if hospitals became overwhelmed at the height of the pandemic.

Families of those who died have slammed their comments as a “disgrace” and said they are an insult to their relatives.

Ms Roche, 53, an operations manager said: “What Boris Johnson has said about old people, I take that personally. He didn’t protect my dad, they have so much to pay for. I think the government that made these decisions needs to be punished, thousands of people lost their lives.”

Ms Roche said their deaths would “haunt us for the rest of our lives”, adding: “They were snatched from us.

Jane visited her father Vincent every day and made sure to keep him well groomed

“My dad had so much life left in him, his zest for life was amazing. My sister was lovely and stunningly beautiful. It’s unimaginable, not being there for her, everybody should have beautiful end-of-life journeys.”

After leaving her father, who died in hospital on Saturday 4 April 2020, Ms Roche received a text from her sister’s partner John Elmore, 50, telling her her sister Jocelyn Pettitt was unresponsive days after she developed a chesty cough. She received a positive Covid result on Monday 6 April.

She said: “I couldn’t go up to see her, everyone was keeping apart, her partner went with her to hospital. My niece rang me at 12pm, screaming and crying uncontrollably ‘Mom’s not going to make it’.

“We all went up and took it in turns to be able to see her but she was moved wards and visitors weren’t allowed in.”

Jocelyn Pettitt was a punk in her younger life and in her final years lost her ability to hear, a few weeks prior to her death she had a cochlea implant fitted but didn’t get chance to reap the benefits

Jocelyn, who was obeying lockdown rules, died alone five days after her father, leaving behind her pregnant daughter Katie Osborne, 26, son Sam Byron, 34, partner John Elmore, 50, and two grandchildren.

Charlie Williams’s father Rex, from Coventry, died aged 85, alone in a care home just days after contracting Covid in April 2020.

Mr Williams, 55, a community adviser, recalls the care home had no PPE or testing facilities and he had to fight for his father to be tested posthumously.

Rex (right) after he arrived as part of the Windrush generation and worked as a manager at a plastics company

Speaking on Covid inquiry revelations, Mr Williams said: “It’s an absolute car crash, I thought module one was bad, module two now, it’s just absolutely despicable, it’s an absolute disgrace. It’s traumatic.

“He [Boris Johnson] had no regard for our country’s most vulnerable, he was putting career first and foremost before lives.”

Mr Williams recalled the pain of his popular father’s funeral which only he and seven others could attend.

“To this day I do not even know how to explain that, it’s not a burial, it’s not a goodbye, to this day we’re still not able to give him a proper send-off.”

Charlie Williams with his father Rex who he says made everyone smile and regularly charmed care home staff with soulful renditions of Nat King Cole

He is pushing for a criminal investigation into ministers’ handling of the pandemic.

Pamela Staples, 56, from Hampshire also lost her father Roy, 91, to Covid in April 2020 when there was an influx of hospital patients to his care home who had the virus.

Ms Staples visited her father every day before visits were stopped on 10 March. Within three weeks, the virus ravaged the home and her father died on 8 April, without his family members by his side.

Roy Staples was a sporty, practical man who his daughter says ‘could put his hand to anything’

Speaking on the latest revelations, she said: “I am disgusted. It’s not surprising, it just shows what an absolute shambles it was. They lack so much integrity.

“It was sheer common sense, if you discharge people from hospitals into care homes without testing you are going to infect other people.

“They treat the public like they’re idiots. We want the inquiry because we don’t want anyone else to go through what we did.”

The heartbroken daughter described her father, saying: “He embodied everything a model citizen of this country would, he gave to charity, paid his taxes, he worked hard.

“My dad had more integrity in his little finger than Matt Hancock and Boris Johnson have in their whole bodies.”

Roy Staples, who worked as a bank messenger until retirement, had four children – Pamela, 54, Steve, 69, Lesley, 67 and Annette 62

Ms Staples is enraged that despite no longer being in government positions, the disgraced politicians continue to enjoy moments in the media spotlight. Mr Johnson has gained a new show on GB News, while Mr Hancock has been paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to appear on TV shows I’m a Celebrity and SAS: Who Dares Wins?

She said: “Why is it you’ve got these people who did these heinous things, who allowed elderly people to die, still on our screens?”

Ms Staples said she and her family have been unable to grieve and get closure for their father’s death, unlike when they lost their mother Jessie in 2005. She said her father’s corpse was unrecognisable as he had been left in a body bag for days.

“For my dad’s funeral, it was 20 minutes long and only four of us could attend, my older brother was shielding [from the virus].

“In our hour of desperation, we observed the rules, we couldn’t go to the chapel of rest.

“We couldn’t even go to the coffin or stand near each other, we were herded out like sheep. We had to go back to our separate homes without even hugging.

“To hear of all those parties [at Downing Street during lockdown], with karaoke machines and quizzes, all those rules they didn’t adhere to and the suffering they caused. I think they should hang their heads in shame,” added Ms Staples.

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