A woman whose daughter was forced to say her last goodbyes over Zoom calls has urged the Government to apologise to families who lost loved ones during lockdown after pictures surfaced of a gathering at Downing Street.
The photographs, published by The Guardian, show the group of 17, including the Prime Minister and his wife, in the garden in Downing Street on May 15, the same day Emma Jones lost her 18-year-old daughter Ruby Fuller to cancer.
Ms Jones said she is “insulted” and feels like the group are “trying to get off on a technicality” after Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said the photographs showed “staff having a drink after a busy set of work meetings and the pressures of the day”.
Just three weeks before, Ruby was told there was nothing doctors could do to treat the blood cancer she had been fighting against for 18 months.
She was forced to say goodbye to family and friends over Zoom and died on May 15.
Her family did not hold a funeral for her as restrictions meant only 10 people would be allowed to join.
Ms Jones, from south London, said: “At the time, it was so hard and so desperately sad but that’s what we had to do. It’s so insulting to see those pictures. We were supposed to be in it together, and it was very hard. I know other families that it was harder for. We were lucky Ruby was at home.”
She added that her daughter stayed home instead of having life-prolonging treatment in case she was taken to hospital where visiting was restricted, but not everyone had those options.
Ms Jones said: “I just want Boris Johnson and his Cabinet and the people in those pictures to acknowledge it and apologise. They’re trying to get away with it on a technicality. This in particular hit home as it was the day she died, when I desperately wanted to see my sister and my parents and give them a big hug and I wasn’t able to.
“How dare they act so nonchalant about it? It’s insulting. The impression they give is that they know what they’re doing but they don’t care and will lie through their teeth.”
Susie Flinham, 44, from Sunderland, said since seeing the photographs of the Prime Minister and his staff in Downing Street’s garden, she has suffered nightmares and flashbacks of visiting her father in hospital for the last time.
Howard Crozier lost his life to Covid-19 in March 2020, and a funeral was held for him on April 15 and was attended by just Mrs Flinham and her husband.
She said she had not seen her father for a number of days due to restrictions on hospital visiting when she was called and told he would be given end of life care.
Mrs Flinham said:: “I had to go to the hospital. I saw him in 10-minute intervals and was in full PPE. He had Alzheimer’s and I don’t know if he recognised me. He was lucid and I don’t know if he knew my voice.
“Because of his condition, he was really struggling to breathe. I can imagine all of his energy was going on trying to breathe.
“A funeral is an acknowledgment of life and we couldn’t have that. Grief is isolating anyway, and we were already in an isolation.”
Mrs Flinham spoke about last Christmas, the first without her father, and said it was hard but recent reports of alleged parties held at Downing Street had “brought it all back” and she has been suffering from nightmares.
She said: “I had a nightmare last night and dreamt I was on dad’s hospital ward, it was really visceral. I’m sure there’s other people having flashbacks too. When I first heard about this party that took place the month after the funeral I broke down.
“This feels so personal and has brought it all back. The day the picture was taken people were denied seeing their dying loved ones and fewer people were allowed to funerals than in that garden.
“They are talking about bringing in strict mitigations but there are so many incidents where it is so obvious Number 10 and the Government don’t believe they apply to them. My first reaction was anger. How disrespectful to people who have lost loved ones and couldn’t say goodbye properly? I’ve been in tears ever since and don’t know what I’m supposed to do with it. How do you process that?”
Mrs Flinham said she does not accept the claims that the photographs showed a “work meeting”.
She added: “I can’t believe we’ve got people saying it’s clearly a meeting because they’re all in suits – that adds insult to injury. There’s no pens, no work material. I taught in schools for 15 years and have been in meetings and I know what a meeting looks like, and that does not look like a meeting.
“The Prime Minister had been in intensive care with coronavirus – I don’t understand how someone who had been so very ill would think it was perfectly acceptable to break the rules. You would think there would be empathy there but all the way through this there has been no empathy.”
Mrs Flinham says she has been getting support from the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice since May 2020, which started as a small group but has now grown.
She said the group is campaigning for an inquiry into allegations of parties at Downing Street when restrictions were in place.