There are three main aims of any inquiry. Firstly, it is to establish what happened. Secondly to learn why it happened and who is to blame. And thirdly to understand what can be done to prevent it happening again.

The Covid inquiry is no different. Although the pandemic was inevitable; the way it was handled was not. For all the people who suffered and lost loved ones through the Covid period, it is a necessary part of the process of healing and grieving to have the facts laid out and the people responsible for any errors to be held to account. And of course, for all of our sakes, it's important that those mistakes are never repeated.

For the inquiry to succeed, it requires the decision-makers being questioned to admit where mistakes were made and make a genuine attempt to answer the questions put to them. But when it comes to both learning lessons and finding accountability the testimony of former health minister Vaughan Gething fell woefully short.

Will Hayward pulls no punches when it comes to scrutinising the decision of politicians in Wales. You can sign up to his newsletter here to find out what is really going on in Wales.

First Minister hopeful Mr Gething spent all day taking questions from the inquiry barristers and what followed can only be described as a perfect example of rope-a-dope question answering. Much like Ali during the Rumble in the Jungle, Mr Gething did all he could to take the blows of his opponent while not conceding a knockout punch - or in his case admitting he'd done anything wrong. He didn't have to last 12 rounds, just to exhaust the five hours set aside for questioning him.

If it was a tactic for surviving today while avoiding humiliating headlines in the week voting closes in the battle to be next First Minister, he may have succeeded. However, when the people questioning you are experienced lawyers who will be writing a report on their findings, the fact many of his claims and arguments made little sense may ultimately prove a short-term win.

Despite being at the heart of every key decision made by the Welsh Government throughout the pandemic where 12,000 people died of the virus, you would be hard pressed to find a single moment where Mr Gething admitted to getting a single thing wrong. Even where he admitted a decision might have been different, this was only something he could say now with the benefit of hindsight.

He managed to duck and weave with the polish of a seasoned boxer. Questions that realistically required little more than a yes or no answer took five minutes and went off on such tangents that both the questioning QC with the chair repeatedly asking Mr Gething to keep his answers brief.

When pushed on specific details of decisions he made, his memory would fog and his powers of recall decline to that which mirrored a boxer with 100 fights behind him. Yet these blanks in his recollections never seemed to apply to every misstep and obstruction from the UK Government which he could remember as if they were yesterday.

At one point Mr Gething was presented with the minutes from a Welsh Government cabinet meeting. Wales was a month slower than all the others in discussing Covid in cabinet and the inquiry barrister pointed out that when they did discuss it, it was only discussed as the last item under “any other business”. Mr Gething denied that the topic was "at the fag end of a meeting" and that there was a really in-depth discussion.

The minutes quoted Mr Gething as saying that "the worldwide response was still in the containment stage and there had been no imported cases into the UK". However, this was not a true statement because there were 12 cases in the UK by this point.

In response to this Mr Gething said that the minutes themselves must be incorrect. "There is no prospect that I told cabinet there had been no imported cases into the UK," he told the inquiry.

But the lead counsel to this Welsh module of the inquiry, Tom Poole KC, showed Mr Gething his own witness statement, which he signed, reiterating that point that again "there were no imported cases". Mr Gething then said, to the incredulous laughter of the onlooking bereaved families, "I plainly made an error there, counsel". If part of the Inquiry is for those who lost families to gain understanding and closure it is failing.

Speaking at lunchtime Sam Smith-Higgins, who lost her father in the pandemic, said: "We want honestly, we would rather have them there saying 'we didn't know what we were doing', 'we made that decision wrong', we would rather that rather than these fabricated answers he's been prepping for for weeks".

Anna-Louise Marsh-Rees from the group said: "If it wasn't so tragic it would be like something out of The Thick of It. You couldn't make what we've heard up. It dispels all the things the Welsh Government peddled about it being Westminster's fault.” She described Mr Gething's responses as a "word salad of nonsense".

"He simply couldn't answer most of the questions. In my opinion he wasn't qualified to be health minister in Wales, he was meant to be in charge of protecting our loved ones and he just didn't". She said there had been "zero acknowledgement" of any mistakes and he displayed "arrogance".

Ann Richards lost her husband Eirwyn. "I am staggered and bewildered at what we've heard today. This guy, come Saturday may be our First Minister".

But this exchange between Mr Gething and the questioning barristers was the theme of the testimony throughout the day. It followed this pattern:

  • Mr Gething would be asked a basic question about how the pandemic was managed.

  • He would say that the Welsh Government handled it well (over the course of three minutes).

  • The KIC would then present Mr Gething with detailed evidence based on academic studies, WhatsApp messages and emails that showed there was strong evidence available at the time to show the flaws in his decision.

  • Mr Gething would then talk at length explaining why this wasn’t the case, how the questioner had the benefit of hindsight, and (most importantly) why none of this was Mr Gething or the Welsh Government’s fault.

The care home disaster

Care homes was always going to be the area where Mr Gething struggled the most because we have all known since June 2020 that the Welsh Government completely dropped the ball on this. Testimony from chief medical officer Sir Frank Atherton in previous weeks has already demonstrated that the Welsh Government knowingly allowed the virus to enter care homes because civil servants and ministers felt that care settings could handle it.

The areas of the response in care homes which is the most hard to defend was around the failure to test people without symptoms going from hospital into homes. On April 16 England introduced mandatory testing prior to discharge to a care home. On April 17, Public Health Wales wrote to express their support for a change and on April 20, PHW produced plans for mass testing and to make Wales' approach the same as England.

Yet despite this, the Welsh Government only changed its discharge/testing policy on April 29. In his attempt to defend the indefensible, Mr Gething went to his favourite counter through his questioning - it is London’s fault.

He was asked how he accounts for the 13-day delay between the policy change in England and the one in Wales. "It's one of those areas where there wasn't the sharing of information you'd have expected between the Department of Health and others. Lots of things are happening at the time, if the same information had been shared with us rather than announced we might have been in a different position," he said.

This doesn’t tally with reality. At this point EVERYONE knew that this was a huge weakness in the defence of our most vulnerable. Welsh Government ministers were being asked about it on a daily basis. Welsh advisers had access to SAGE. Just last week the chief scientific adviser for health Rob Orford testified that there had been no advice from himself underpinning the decision not to test. For Mr Gething to suggest that it was the UK Government not sharing information that led to this error is unfathomable, unjustifiable and nonsensical to anyone who followed the Welsh Government press conferences at the time.

Mr Gething wasn’t done there. He said that he didn’t believe that there was the testing capacity to introduce it sooner anyway. He said: "I don't think we had the testing capacity to do it… you've got to deploy your testing in a way that deals with resources you've got in volume terms and to then prioritise it".

This statement to the inquiry was in direct contrast to what Mr Gething said in his witness statement, when he wrote "the decision not to test all care home residents and staff was not a question of resource". It also directly contradicts what he told WalesOnline at the time in a press conference, when he said he would be testing people going into care homes if he had twice as many tests at his disposal.

When Mr Poole pointed out the contradiction, Mr Gething denied it was a contradiction. He insisted repeatedly both statements could be true at once. He replied: "The evidence that was available to me and the advice I was getting wasn't 'you should do this' but even if it was, I don't think we had the capacity for the tests."

The chair of the inquiry, Baroness Heather Hallett interjected to suggest that an alternative form of words in his witness statement might have been more accurate, he again denied it. What followed was a bubbling and stumbling response that was the perfect example of how it is possible to speak sentences that make no sense.


Perhaps the most that Mr Gething squirmed under questioning was when he was challenged on his own bout of what some thought was rule breaking - he was pictured having chips on a park bench when the Welsh Government's rule was that sitting down to have a picnic while out exercising was not allowed.

He was set up perfectly. He was first asked a general question about the importance of politicians following the rules, which he took the opportunity in answering to mock former Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings for breaking the rules when he drove to Barnard Castle in the north-east of England to “test his eyes”. Taking the bait Mr Gething mocked the excuse given by Boris Johonson’s former adviser saying that he “did harm”.

Counsel to the inquiry Mr Poole followed this up with possibly the most restrained question possible about Mr Gething's own alleged disgression. If Mr Gething's actions were not breaking the rules but many others could look at the wording of the Welsh Government's guidelines and think they were, did this not suggest the rules were at the very least worded in a confusing way?

Impossible to deny, you might have thought. Not Mr Gething. Everyone else was just wrong. Sitting down to eat at a picnic table wasn't breaking the rules in his case because he hadn't gone out for a picnic but and sitting down at the picnic table to eat was instead part of “exercise that the food was incidental to”.

At the time many read this Welsh Government statement from the rules in place in May 20202 to read something different. It said: "The purpose of leaving home is to exercise. Going for a walk and then having a picnic or spending a prolonged period on a park bench, for example, is not considered to be exercise."

Failure to prepare for the firebreak

One particularly sticky wicket for Mr Gething was over the delay in implementing the firebreak lockdown and the fact it was so short. Unlike the first wave where he could suggest that they were waiting for UK Government action, the wave over autumn and winter of 2020/21 when Wales had the worst Covid infection and death figures in the UK was totally the Welsh Government’s responsibility.

A fire break was advised by the Welsh Government's technical advisory cell on September 25, several days after it was recommended by the UK Government's Sage advisory body. But it took over a month for the Welsh Government to order one. Mr Gething was asked why no modelling work to prepare for such a lockdown was conducted during that time. Mr Gething spoke for three solid minutes after this point but didn’t come close to answering the question.

He was pushed again by Mr Poole to which he replied "I can't recall. The worsening picture wasn't a secret or a surprise, myself and the First Minister were actively pointing to it".

Asked if it should have been done sooner than October, Mr Gething says: "In hindsight, if we'd undertaken modelling then we'd have had a further basis to undertake action".

Not cancelling the Six Nations game

Another area of persistent questioning was around the decision by the Welsh Government not to cancel the Six Nations game between Wales and Scotland but instead leave it to the WRU to do it.

Mr Gething said there was no scientific advice to cancel the game. He said: "I'd been asked previously whether I was going to the game and I answered yes. If I'm saying there's no reason for this game not to go ahead, I can't then say my family isn't going. I've made that decision. You can't be a minister who stands up and says this is the advice I've had for the country, but I'm going to do something entirely different."

Mr Poole ran Mr Gething through things already cancelled by March 12, including Mr Gething's party's own conference in Llandudno. "Was it really fair to leave the decision in the hands of the WRU, was that an abdication of responsibility on the Welsh Government's part?"

Mr Gething said there wasn't scientific advice to cancel the events. He says he had spoken to the chair of the WRU and there was a call between the WRU and the CMO. "I don't think it's correct to characterise it as the WRU were left on their own," he said.

Mr Gething then tells Mr Poole "with respect", "the event in the rugby stadium is different to an indoor conference both in terms of transmission but also, frankly, can you imagine if we had trooped every Labour member to a party political event over a weekend when we're just about to make more announcements."

Of course an outdoor event is different, but then why did he also allow the Stereophonics concert to go ahead?

Mr Poole points out to him that many outdoor sporting events, including Premier League matches were being cancelled at that time. Mr Gething said "Looking back, its one of the choices that I do think I would have made differently and that it the value and benefit of hindsight".

Baroness Hallett also gave a masterful evisceration of Mr Gething's claim he was following the science. She said: "What concerns me is that when a politician like you says we were following the science, you're effectively saying that it's a scientist taking the decision. Now as a politician, you have to balance a number of factors, don't you?

"It's not just the scientific advice, and in fact you did have some advice that said a reduction of 2% in mortalities, that's quite a few deaths you might have saved. So do you accept that it's not a question of following the science but of a number of factors?"

The most Mr Gething would admit is that he decision at the time "jars". He said: "In all the awkward choices I made, that is definitely one that jars and I recognise that."

This is why people hate politics

There would have been great understanding from people watching the evidence if Mr Gething had simply admitted he got some things wrong. Everyone knew he had a tough job and there would have been sympathy for this. But he just didn't have it in him to truly front up. As we saw from UK Government ministers, he didn’t follow the science, he hid behind it.

The rushed 30 minutes allocated to the barrister of the bereaved families to question the man who was second only to Mark Drakeford in terms of responsibility when it came to the Welsh response optimises more than anything why Wales needs its own inquiry. The inquiry questioners were as thorough and diligent as they could be. But this inquiry has a passing interest in Wales, when what the Welsh responses really needs is undivided attention.