The PM said “of course I will meet the bereaved” when questioned in a recent interview about attempts by the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group to secure a meeting.
But the campaigners trying to secure a swift public inquiry into the government’s handling of the crisis have now shared a letter from Johnson in which he “regrettably” declined to meet with the group.
On Tuesday the PM acknowledged the series of U-turns made by government over the course of the summer – including reversals on face masks in schools, housing evictions and exam results – but insisted the nation’s leadership was still “on course”.
The decision not to meet with the families appears to add to the list of reversals.
“It’s a U-turn followed by a U-turn,” said campaign co-founder Jo Goodman, who lost her father Stuart to the virus.
“The prime minister has done a 360: dodging five letters, then agreeing on live TV to meet with us, and now quietly telling us he’s too busy. It’s heartless.”
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran had earlier written to the PM saying she was “shocked” to learn that he had “refused” to meet the group – which says it represents 1,600 families.
Last Wednesday, Johnson told Sky News: “I am not aware of those letters but I will of course write back to every letter we get.
“Of course I will meet the bereaved.”
But writing to Goodman, the PM acknowledged “a letter will be of little comfort against the grief and heartbreak that families have suffered” as he declined a meeting.
“As much as I would wish to be able to offer my condolences in person to all those who have suffered loss, that is regrettably not possible and so I am unable to meet with you and members of Bereaved Families for Justice,” he wrote.
Johnson also said he understands the group have instructed solicitors who are in pre-action legal correspondence over an independent inquiry.
He said he will hold the inquiry “at the appropriate time” and urged all further correspondence to be dealt with by their respective legal teams.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “The prime minister has responded to Bereaved Families For Justice to express his sincere condolences to all families who have sadly lost loved ones to this terrible disease.
“He remains committed to meeting with members of the public and families of key workers who have been bereaved as a result of Covid-19.
“The prime minister is resolute in his determination to beat this virus and prevent further families from suffering such dreadful loss.”