MANY have been shocked at the double standards applied to three professors appearing before Baroness Hallett last week. But you really have to watch at least part of the day’s YouTube coverage to get a sense of the level of disrespect shown to Professor Carl Heneghan.
The hostile treatment of Professor Heneghan contrasts starkly with that of Professor John Edmunds who preceded him. It is worth watching from 40 minutes in, where Baroness Hallett is thanking the first witness, Professor Catherine Noakes, Professor of Environmental Engineering for Buildings, and describing her as one of the ‘unsung heroines’. Continue viewing to the opening few minutes of the next witness where the senior lawyer, Hugo Keith KC, is smiling, thanking Professor Edmunds for ‘kindly’ providing a 115-page witness statement, and then asking leading questions extolling Edmunds’ expertise in modelling and ‘de facto’ in epidemiology. Professor Edmunds responds smugly at one point with ‘It was an amazing effort’. They spend an hour or more going through his witness statement together, largely with Hugo Keith describing what is in it, and sprinkling in phrases like ‘these many august brilliant advisory committees’.
Fast forward to 3hr 22 min, when they discuss the September meeting at Downing Street, aimed to include ‘a balanced group of views’ but described by Sir Patrick Vallance as ‘mainly from the “let it rip” brigade’. Edmunds describes them as ‘many, well not many, but vocal people’. They then review WhatsApp messages between Edmunds and Angela McLean (then Chief Scientist at the Ministry of Defence – an interesting invitee) during the meeting. Edmunds opines that ‘Who is this f*ckwit’ refers to the Inquiry’s next witness, Professor Heneghan. He says that ‘Mr, er, Professor Heneghan was making some really basic epidemiological errors, the sorts of ones we teach our students on day 1.’ He describes Heneghan’s views as ‘half-baked nonsense’ and is clearly disappointed that he had not managed to persuade the Prime Minister into another lockdown. His statement concludes with him saying that the government was ‘incredibly well informed’. There is of course no indication that any of the information may have been incorrect, such as the efficacy of lockdowns or masks. Baroness Hallett ends the session with profuse thanks and reassuring Edmunds that he had done as much as he possibly could: ‘I’m afraid you aren’t the first and you won’t be the last scientist whose work is misunderstood’.
At 3hr 50 mins, Professor Heneghan takes the stand, and with Andrew O’Connor KC the whole atmosphere changes. Rather than extolling him as an expert, he spends the first eight minutes going through Heneghan’s CV and recent publications, going to great lengths to show that Professor Heneghan’s research interests have been around general practice and not the spread of viral diseases. He comments that Heneghan did not sit on Sage or NERVTAG or SPI-MO, failing to understand that this witness is therefore well-placed to interrogate some of the group-think which has undoubtedly occurred.
Heneghan is questioned for 25 minutes about the Great Barrington Declaration (which he had not even signed). This part of the interview is peppered with demands to ‘just answer YES or NO’, a tactic not seen with any other witness. O’Connor then weighs in with the ‘f*ckwit’ label. Heneghan is amazingly restrained and professional in his response, unlike the users of such playground language. With the time wasted on the above, O’Connor totally fails to discuss even one line of the 67-page witness statement provided and abruptly ends with ‘no more questions.’
Baroness Hallett concludes the session at 4hr 46 mins by thanking Professor Heneghan for his time with barely a smile or any eye contact and adding that if he wishes he may submit evidence in writing – she seems not to have noticed that he had already done so. The contrast in body language in her thanks to Professor Heneghan could not be more evident than to the two other professors earlier in the day.
UsforThem’s excellent analysis of the inquiry so far comes to the damning conclusion: ‘The Inquiry is now hopelessly compromised by the seemingly presumptive words of its own Chair and leading lawyers and its failure to ask the right questions.’ They observed that the precautionary principle had been turned on its head. They covered Professors Edmunds and Heneghan on Day 13 as outlined above, and reported on the similarly fawning approach to Sir Jeremy Farrar (eg ‘Q. Have you received a plethora of honours from a number of governments, institutes and entities? A. Thank you.’) and Professor Neil Ferguson (from 1 hr 53 mins; note phrases like ‘world-leading specialist’ and ‘prestigious . . . awards’ in the preamble).
It does not seem to have even crossed the minds of the inquiry team or its chairman that some of the advice being given to the government may have been fundamentally flawed. Were either of those witnesses questioned about the vast amount of money heading into their departments from the pharmaceutical industry or their proxies, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) – were they heck! Or was Sir Jeremy asked about his role in obstructing discussion of the origin of SARS-CoV-2 – pigs might fly!
Lord Frost, in the Telegraph, comes to equally damning conclusions. ‘I am afraid that it seems to many of those watching the hearings or reading the transcripts of the inquiry that its chair, Lady Hallett, and the lead counsel, Hugo Keith, are basing their approach on a particular, preconceived, view of the story of the pandemic lockdowns. That is that Covid was obviously dangerous, that lockdowns were the correct solution to the problem, and that the only real question is the timeliness of the government’s actions, not their merits.
‘That is certainly the consensus view. It is convenient for many because it allows attention to be focused on the failings of Boris Johnson personally, rather than on those of the government machine and the people who ran it. That doesn’t make it correct. I have a view on the subject from my own experience – which is that we would have been better off following the Swedish approach – but I don’t claim a monopoly on wisdom. I am willing to be proved wrong. But sadly this inquiry seems unlikely to help me in this one way or the other.‘
Meanwhile, UsforThem’s report concluded that the Inquiry is ‘.. setting us up for a doom-loop of catastrophic errors we cannot afford to repeat. It has become an embarrassment to the legal profession and is jeopardising the reputation of the English legal system. Its exorbitant costs already cannot be justified, and there is only worse to come. It should be abandoned.’
It is hard to disagree.
This article appeared in HART on October 20, 2023, and is republished by kind permission.