'The Government broke the law' - Sidmouth woman wins High Court case over Covid deaths in care homes

 Cathy Gardner and Fay Harris leave the Royal Courts of Justice

Cathy Gardner (2nd left) and Fay Harris (2nd right), whose fathers died from Covid-19, leave the Royal Courts of Justice, central London - Credit: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

A Sidmouth woman has won her High Court challenge against the Government over Covid deaths in care homes during the early stage of the pandemic. 

Cathy Gardner’s father died of ‘probable Covid’ in an Oxfordshire care home in April 2020. 

The previous month, the Government had told hospitals to free up beds by discharging elderly patients back into care homes without testing them for coronavirus.     

Dr Gardner began legal action shortly after her father’s death, alleging that early in the pandemic the Government unlawfully failed to protect the lives of care home residents.  She was joined in her legal action by Fay Harris, whose father also died of Covid in a care home.

Today the High Court upheld that claim. 

Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Garnham concluded that policies contained in documents released in March and early April 2020 were unlawful because they failed to take into account the risk to elderly and vulnerable residents from non-symptomatic transmission of the virus. 

They said that, despite there being ‘growing awareness’ of the risk of asymptomatic transmission throughout March 2020, there was no evidence that then Health Secretary Matt Hancock addressed the issue of the risk to care home residents of such transmission. 

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The judges said in their ruling: "In our judgment, this was not a binary question - a choice between on the one hand doing nothing at all, and on the other hand requiring all newly admitted residents to be quarantined. 

"The document could, for example, have said that where an asymptomatic patient, other than one who has tested negative, is admitted to a care home, he or she should, so far as practicable, be kept apart from other residents for up to 14 days. 

"Since there is no evidence that this question was considered by the Secretary of State, or that he was asked to consider it, it is not an example of a political judgment on a finely balanced issue. 

"Nor is it a point on which any of the expert committees had advised that no guidance was required. 

"The drafters of the documents of March 17 and April 2 simply failed to take into account the highly relevant consideration of the risk to elderly and vulnerable residents from asymptomatic transmission." 

The judges rejected other claims by the women made under human rights legislation, and against NHS England. 

Speaking outside the court, Dr Gardner said: "My father, along with tens of thousands of other elderly and vulnerable people, tragically died in care homes in the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"I believed all along that my father and other residents of care homes were neglected and let down by the Government

"The High Court has now vindicated that belief, and our campaign to expose the truth.

"It is also now clear that Matt Hancock's claim that the Government threw a protective ring around care homes in the first wave of the pandemic was nothing more than a despicable lie of which he ought to be ashamed and for which he ought to apologise."

But Mr Hancock is still insisting that he did nothing wrong.

A spokesperson for the former health secretary said: "This court case comprehensively clears ministers of any wrongdoing and finds Mr Hancock acted reasonably on all counts.

"The court also found that PHE (Public Health England) failed to tell ministers what they knew about asymptomatic transmission.

"Mr Hancock has frequently stated how he wished this had been brought to his attention earlier.

"Mr Hancock's thoughts are with everyone who lost loved ones, and we must ensure that all the right lessons are learned."