In This Episode
This week saw arguably the most anticipated moment of the Covid Inquiry so far, the first appearance of Boris Johnson, who was Prime Minister during the pandemic. Over two days at the hearing, he offered an apology and admitted some mistakes were made, but defended his overall approach.
In this bonus episode, Nish and Coco find out how his words went down with those most deeply affected by the pandemic, those who lost their loved ones. Susie Crozier-Flintham, who lost her dad Howard, reveals what it was like to be in the room to hear his testimony – she says he refused to look at the families who were there, and in fact arrived 3 hours early just so he could avoid them.
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Susie Crozier-Flintham, Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice
Uk Covid-19 Inquiry
Nish Kumar Hello and welcome to a special bonus episode of Pod Save the UK. Now regular listeners will know that we’ve been following the proceedings of the Covid inquiry closely as we were recording this week’s main episode. Boris Johnson was just beginning his two days of evidence, Given that he was the Prime Minister during the entirety of the pandemic. These were arguably the most important sessions of the inquiry so far. So we wanted to jump back home for this bonus episode, just to go over some of the key points of what was said.
Coco Khan Of course, the news cycle moves quickly and the latest shenanigans over the government’s Rwanda plan have pushed the Johnson testimony off the front pages. But we really want to honor the experiences of those who suffered the loss of loved ones and who have been patiently waiting for this moment to see Boris Johnson held to account for his words and actions.
Nish Kumar To that end, we’ve invited a very special guest to join us. Her name is Susie Crozier-Flintham, and she was actually at the inquiry this week. And Susie actually lost her dad, Howard, to Covid in March 2020. And we’re deeply honored that she’s decided to join us today. Welcome, Susie. Thank you so much for talking to us.
Susie Crozier-Flintham Thank you so much for having me. And thank you for. I don’t think I’ve ever been on before.
Nish Kumar Well, listen, you spent the last two days listening to Boris Johnson speak that he had to get a train very late yesterday via Sunderland. So you’ve had a quite stressful 48 hours, so we really appreciate you taking the time.
Coco Khan And listen, Susie, the honor really is as I think you know, you speak on behalf of a lot of people who are really impacted by this. So I suppose the first thing to ask is please tell us about your your father, how it.
Susie Crozier-Flintham Okay, why do I start with dad? So like me, he was a teacher. He taught in the same school for his entire career, which meant that he taught generations of the same family. So when we would go into Gates and do our very glamorous Tesco shop, quite often he’d be stopped outside the supermarket by people and there’d be like three generations of the same family go, Oh my God, Mr. Kreitzer, as you do. And it was a bit like having a celebrity dad, although obviously as a teenager that was quite embarrassing. But he was just kind of universally loved. He was such a generous human being. He would he would do anything for you. And, you know, he was going around doing people’s gardens of the congregation of his church. He would as much as he hated driving, he’d give people lifts as much as he done sit and moan about it later. He was mischievous. He had a really kind of wicked sense of humor. He was also really good at. This is going to sound so bizarre, but he was really good at insulting people so subtly that they wouldn’t realize until about two hours later that actually I read to them, I wish I had that skill because I’m just rude and nice. And he was just generous. He was lovely. He was full of sunshine and he was committed Christian his entire life. He was a keen gardener. He had time for everybody, just. He was just love. He was my dad.
Nish Kumar How has the last two days been? Because you’ve actually been in the room that Johnson was giving testimony. What was that like for you?
Susie Crozier-Flintham Oh, that’s quite a complicated thing to have had. I’m not naive enough to have thought it would have been plain sailing. I knew it was going to be hard. I did. Yeah. But the fact that he walked in the room and refused to even look at us. I mean, let’s be clear, right. He arrived at the venue at 7 a.m., so he didn’t have to walk past bereaved families. So he arrived three hours early just to avoid us. And when he walked in the room for all his mealy mouthed apology, he didn’t actually look at us. What? You know, and I’m kind of sad. I sort of do my best teacher stare, trying to bore my eyes into everything would turn around and look at me so I could give him, you know, the proper kind of targets. But no, he wasn’t he wasn’t going to really acknowledge our presence. Everything was kind of very, very performative from him. And you sat there and you kind of you taken right back, actually, because what he’s saying is what you were saying in 2020. So you kind of triggered right back to the moment of your loss. So there’s that and then this anger and this frustration and there’s just deep pain there. You know, the only saving grace really is that we were at least together. We could support each other because there was no help coming from the chair either. And it was down. And then just listening to him obfuscate and lie and be the Boris Johnson show as if, you know, he’s some sort of showbiz celebrity is just galling. Is utterly galling. I don’t know how many times I could say the word disrespectful, but I mean, that, I guess, is probably the most the most appropriate word to describe how it was that he was just so disrespectful to us.
Coco Khan Susie, I wanted to just ask you because you talked about the the experience of having to relive your own loss as he’s kind of recounting some of the same lines that he did back in 2020. And just for sorry to make you. Tell me about this again. But we spoke about your father, how it but we didn’t really say that he caught Covid. And that was horrible for you and you couldn’t see him. And I just wondered if you wouldn’t mind just sharing a few lines on that, just to really remind everyone of the sacrifices you were making while the man in front of you yesterday didn’t.
Susie Crozier-Flintham Yeah, I mean, I think I think unless you kind of went through it, you don’t necessarily know the realities of Covid itself. Like we were all locked down. We were all betrayed by party gate and all of that. But for me, that was in hospital on the 15th of March. So this was the oh, please don’t go to the Pope speech that went in with pneumonia, which was horrible in itself because, of course, you think the worst immediately. And I was able to see him. Obviously, we hadn’t lockdown at that point. And I was able to see him. And in a couple of days, he was on the mend. He was laughing. He was singing. And his favorite thing to sing are some dreadful Gilbert and Sullivan tunes. And we were singing hymns. As I said, you know, he was a Christian his entire life. He was laughing and joking and I thought, brilliant, he’s going to be out. He’ll be able to go back to his care home. It’ll be fine. And then on the Sunday, I turned up and he was in about the fourth Ward by this point, being moved so many times, it was ridiculous. And I turned upon the sun and they said, Oh, no, we’ve closed the mail part of this ward because we’ve admitted to Covid patients. So this is the 22nd of March. We still hadn’t locked him. And I’m kind of stood there outside the ward kind of going, What? What do you mean your bed? Why aren’t they isolated? Why aren’t they in a separate room with them? On a ward is really vulnerable human beings, you’ve admitted. I don’t understand. And I was sent sort of stood in the car park thinking, how on earth do I drive? What do I do? Is this the last time I’m ever going to see him? And I came home and I just said to my partners, I really don’t like this. I really don’t like this. I’m not going to see him again. And then I had I literally, like recruit as many students as possible. So I was I could be busy. And then I got a phone call on Wednesday to say, it’s end of life. You need to be here. God and. So I dropped everything. I rushed to the hospital. He was on yet another ward. I was told I had ten minutes. I was given PPE, which I have since learned from watching. An online documentary called The Unequal Pandemic. I have since learned that that PPE was not fit for purpose and I wasn’t protected, and neither was he by my wearing it. I read an article by Rachel Clark this morning where she was describing the sound on the Covid wards she was a doctor on. And that’s the thing that stays with me is. All my dad had was oxygen. And I don’t know if you’ve ever heard someone fighting to breathe. But it is horrific because any minute you think he’s going to suffocate. And there were eight people in the war to start, all of them on oxygen, all of them making this rattling sound. His eyes were writhing. His chest was heaving. His cheeks was sunk. He looked gray. He looked so small. And he wasn’t a physically big man, my dad. But he was massive to me. And there was this tiny little shrunken person. Probably didn’t even know who I was because he couldn’t see my face and he was fighting to breathe. And all I did was held his hand. And then I had to leave after ten minutes. But they said to me, you know, I mean, this is now you can only be in for ten minutes, but you can be in as many ten minutes as you like. So I kind of came home and I sat there just to kind of process. And I turned around and I went back and I did that a few. Times. And it was just the same each time. And I’m just sat there holding his hand. And in the end, it was like, Dad, please don’t. If you’re suffering, please don’t hold on for me. If you’re suffering and you need to go, please just go, because I can’t. I camp at sea like this. And that was on the Friday. And then I woke up on the Saturday morning to a voicemail to say that he died in the middle of the night. Completely by himself. You know, in a hospital that he hated hospitals. He didn’t go to the doctors. He you know, he was a really healthy man, bar kind of Parkinson’s and and dementia. But physically, you know, he was very, very fit. He used to walk for six miles every day, right up until the day we put him into a care home. I don’t know if you knew where he was. I don’t know whether he was frightened. And really. Really hate to think of him. Frightened. And he died by himself. I’m. And and I don’t think. I’ve processed it even now. Actually.
Coco Khan I can’t really imagine how you can process something like that. I mean, one of the things that I’m thank you so much for, for telling us that story. Like it’s it’s heartbreaking to hear and it’s heartbreaking for so many others, I think, who went through that to be reminded of that.
Coco Khan Do you think in some way this inquiry has helped with the processing? I mean, that that’s always meant to be one of the aims, right? Like it’s a kind of national closure experience and inquiry has actually been the case for you.
Susie Crozier-Flintham No. It hasn’t. And part of that is because and Johnson was demonstrably lying for both days, but also because I’m actually not particularly impressed with how the inquiry is being run. So, for example, yesterday the Chair didn’t stop Johnson talking over counsel and counsel were obviously trying to get to the crux of the matter and he kept interrupting and cutting them off and she didn’t stop that. And then at the end of the inquiry hearing yesterday, he basically made an impromptu party political broadcast, to which she didn’t stop. And she told those of us in the public gallery who were reacting emotionally by gasping that we had to be quiet. So, you know, that’s just the way even the way that the inquiry is being conducted is it’s not. So for those of us who were bereaved at all, and I don’t even think it’s set up to really be as interactive as it could be. I mean, our legal team are amazing. All the core participant legal teams are amazing. But we can, you know, and you could have predicted exactly what he was going to do. He was going to bluster, he was going to interrupt, he was going to obfuscate. He was going to answer a question he had in his head rather than the one that was asked. I mean, I knew he was going to do that. And if I knew that, so should the chair. But she did nothing to stop it. So actually, it’s it’s a really frustrating process so that there’s no sense of closure from it at all. All it has done really is confirm what we already knew that he was lying then. He’s lying now. He makes decisions too late. And when they came quite often they were the wrong ones. And that was stuff we already knew. It’s just been confirmed. So, no, I’m not sure. I’m not sure. Closure. I mean, I’ll see what the recommendations coming out of the inquiry will be and if we have any chance of making like genuine systemic change. So nothing like that can happen again, then maybe then I’ll get some closure. But I’m not particularly hopeful about that either.
Nish Kumar I hate to put you through this again, Susie, given the amount that you’ve heard the man speak. But let’s let’s hear a section of Johnson at the proceedings.
Clip Can I just say how glad I am to be at this inquiry and how sorry I am for the the pain and the loss and the suffering? Don’t please. Covid victims. Please sit down. Please sit down or I’m afraid you’ll have to leave the hearing room. I’m sorry. If you don’t sit down, I’m going to ask the Astros to get you to leave. Right. Could I just. Please. Could you ask him to leave? Could I say believe that? I understand the feelings of these victims and their families. And I am deeply sorry for the pain and the loss and the suffering of those victims and and their families.
Nish Kumar That was Baroness Hale, who’s chairing the inquiry, reacting to some protesters standing up in the room and confronting Johnson or attempting to confront Johnson directly, since he just talked to us a little bit about the groups of people that were together, because you referred a couple of times to us and how valued you found the community that you’re with. What is that community?
Susie Crozier-Flintham So my community is the Covid 19 Bereaved Families for Justice Group. The protesters who were thrown out with Friends of the War. So they’ve become custodians of the memorial wall that we started in London, but they are actually a slightly separate group. Yeah, I mean, we we really are a community and we are so good at looking out for each other. And we made a point of making sure that we were all supported. Yeah. And it was it makes a difference being with other bereaved people because we understand it in a way that people who aren’t bereaved just wouldn’t. I do think, however, the way that Boris Hallett treated those protesters, he stood up was appalling because all they did was stand. You know, it’s not like they were shouting obscenities or using the language that we’ve heard come out of Johnson’s mouth recently. They just stood there in silent dignity, holding pictures of their loved ones. I mean, I state sat with a picture of my loved one, but there were inquiry staff telling bereaved families with pictures of their loved ones to just can we please move the picture lower because it’s distracting? To whom? To whom is it distracting? But yes, it is really important to be be there with fellow brave people because we we can support each other in a way that I don’t think other people can.
Nish Kumar At the first day of testimony, all the reporting. But it was reflecting on Johnson striking a more serious and contemplative tone than we’re used to with him. But as ever with Johnson, his own skin nature revealed itself in the second day of questioning. And here is Johnson being, I think it’s fair to say, audibly rattled by Hugo Keith’s line of questioning.
Clip You say at the bottom of the page, according to Sir Patrick Vallance. We’re in a really tough spot, a complete shambles. I really don’t want to do another national lockdown. He’s told you are told that if you want to go down this route of letting go, you need to tell people, you need to tell them you’re going to allow people to die. Was your position, Mr. Johnson, that in light of your views secretly held about people dying, having reached their time anyway, that you were obliged to reject the advice of your advisers, that there’d be a circuit breaker? No. That there’ll be no national lockdown until the last possible moment. And that you would try a tier system. No, no, no. So the implication of the implication that you’re you’re trying to draw from those conversations is completely wrong. And my position was that we had to save human life at all ages. And that was the objective of the of the strategy.
Coco Khan He gets a bit tetchy. He comes across a bit arrogant. It’s hard to read whether in those moments like, you know, the interrogation is working, so to speak, or actually he just sort of reveals a side to him that is kind of chilling. And I wondered how you felt seeing those moments where it got a bit heated in the room.
Susie Crozier-Flintham For me, actually, I think it’s a good thing to see him getting rattled because it means that he knows that his lies aren’t working. The interesting point for me was when Hugo Keith and I did a little tally, he mentioned eight separate moments of evidence about they let the bodies pile high, let it rip kind of narrative. And he listed them. And even Boris Johnson was silent for a minute. And that to me was really, really telling because you could see he was having to come up with a way, how do I spin this? And you could actually see the process. But he knew in that moment because the rest of us, we were just waiting, actually. Yeah. Got rattled because it proves that you are not the smooth operator you think you are. And actually, you’re going to have to work to spin this now. And it just proves that he has actually got a lot to answer for. I think.
Coco Khan One of the things I was really curious about was, you know, he talked at length about getting ill with Covid himself. And I wondered how that how that landed with, you know, the families of the bereaved.
Susie Crozier-Flintham Not well. I mean, as manipulation goes, that one is pretty shocking to say, you know, oh, woe is me. I have coped with it. Yeah. I mean, it was a horrible, horrible, horrible illness. But you know what? You survived and you didn’t allow your experience of Covid to create empathy or compassion. It didn’t spur you into action. It didn’t spare you into making the right decisions at the right time. And it did spur you into saying, let it rip. These people are going to die anyway. They’ve had a good innings. That’s what it made you do. So don’t be trying to pull a sympathy vote on me because I’m not having it. And we all saw through it. You know, it was one of the things that we obviously we were disgusted by in the break when we were actually allowed to communicate with each other. You know, we were all absolutely furious at that because how dare you try and manipulate the bereaved? There’s no moral there, is there? If you’re going to go, Oh, let’s play for sympathy from the bereaved. No, absolutely not.
Nish Kumar Yes. Susie, we should also say that he tried to contextualize some of those remarks by saying that he spoke and this is a direct quote in an unpolished way. And he said that he was speaking in unpolished way because he wanted others to speak freely. My personal feeling on that is that’s an example of somebody attempting to explain and contextualize something that actually makes it worse. That’s doesn’t seem to me to be indicative of competent leadership. That’s public school debating bullshit. I wonder how you felt when you heard him say that.
Susie Crozier-Flintham Trying to contextualize something which for which there is no context. Yeah. I mean, the thing that struck me about his argument with that one was it was and I’m smiling because this is it’s bringing out the teacher in me is, oh, everybody was doing it. It wasn’t just me. You know, your nine boys say that to me. And, you know, he’s a grown man and he’s going, oh, well, everyone was doing it. And, you know, in your head, I’m sure your parents would have said this to you. Well, if everyone was jumping off a bridge.
Nish Kumar Yeah.
Susie Crozier-Flintham You know, and as I just said, it is pretty ridiculous. But you’re the leader and you are not leading. Well, if that is if you genuinely stand by. Everyone was doing it wasn’t just me. And you’re not leading either. You follow it and you’ve got no business being prime minister. But, you know, he’s trying to contextualize and defend defend the indefensible.
Coco Khan You mentioned earlier that you wait until the recommendations come out before you make a final verdict about how useful this inquiry was or not. Are there particular recommendations that you are looking out for that that that really make a difference, whether it be, I don’t know, compensation fund or an actual apology that you think is meant? Like what would it be that that would give you some sense of closure from this?
Susie Crozier-Flintham I mean, it’s well, I mean, the biggest thing I think is funding the NHS properly. You know, and actually ensuring we have the structures in this country to cope with a health disaster. But also, you know, this the fact that he actually admitted, oh, I didn’t understand how serious it was. Yeah. Yeah. Pardon? Who are you talking to then? Because from what I understand, the scientific advisers were telling you how serious is. So another change I’d like to see is is for people to really consider who it is we are putting into public office and whether or not we trust them with our lives. Yeah. I mean, I’ve done a lot of thinking about this because he mentioned the system or the system wasn’t good enough. The system like you’re in charge of the system, the person who can make changes to the system you’re claiming to be a victim of is you. And actually, you know, and I think about how these systems were invented for and by and the fact that the rest of us are trying to shoehorn ourselves into a system that was created by posh white men and instead of trying to change the system to actually fit the people in it, we are trying to shoehorn ourselves into a system that’s not fit for purpose. And actually that is the big thing here. We need to look at what we have in place and if it doesn’t work, change it.
Nish Kumar Susie, thank you so much for joining us today. We appreciate after all you’ve been through and after a sort of hectic 48 hours, I imagine it’s also been quite emotionally draining for you. We so appreciate you taking the time to join us.
Susie Crozier-Flintham I really appreciate you giving me the time to tell that story and and his personality out into the world again. So thank you for that.