Covid: 'I couldn't visit my brother to tell him mum had died'

By Mary O'Connor
BBC News

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Revelations that up to 100 people were invited to a "bring-your-own-booze" party in the Downing Street garden during the first lockdown in May 2020, have upset many people who were separated from dying loved ones, unable to attend funerals or alone during life-changing events as they followed the rules.

Here are some of those stories.

'Ruby would have been so mad about this'

Image source, Emma Jones
Image caption,
Ruby asked to be remembered by her motto - live kindly, live loudly

Ruby Fuller, 18, died from leukaemia five days before the Downing Street garden party - and on the same day a gathering reportedly happened in the same garden, complete with wine and cheese..

Lockdown rules meant Ruby had to say goodbye to her friends, grandparents and other relatives via video call from the family home in Crystal Palace, south London.

Her mother, Emma Jones, says Boris Johnson's apology does not go far enough and he should resign as prime minister.

She tells the BBC she now feels "stupid" for adhering to restrictions, and that it is "really infuriating" the people who made the rules appeared to have created them just for the "little people".

While she doesn't blame Mr Johnson or the pandemic for Ruby's death, Mrs Jones, a 51-year-old environmental consultant, says adhering to the restrictions made the "excruciatingly painful" situation of her daughter's death so much harder.

Downing Street party row

She says "most devastating" was how the restrictions affected Ruby's closest friends in her final weeks.

Not being able to say goodbye to her in person or be together made their grieving so much harder, she says.

Before she died, Ruby wrote a list of things she wanted her family to do. One request was that she be remembered by the phrase "live kindly, live loudly".

By speaking out about the latest revelations, Emma feels she is fulfilling her daughter's motto.

"Ruby would have been so mad about this. She took part in every protest going, and if there was a march on this, she would have gone to it with her protest banner."

'I couldn't visit my brother to tell him mum had died'

Image source, Toni Kent
Image caption,
Toni broke the news to her brother of their mother's death over an internet call

Toni Kent contacted us to say her mother died on 22 May 2020, a couple of days after the Downing Street party. The lockdown rules in place then prevented her from breaking the news to her brother in person.

Toni's brother has Downs Syndrome and lives in a care home. She had to break the news to him on an internet call while he was supported by care assistants.

"You can imagine how heartbreaking this was," says Toni. "He used to speak to our mum every day and she was his sole parent.

"To discover that drinks parties were taking place between the very people who were telling us that we could not meet each other is sickening to hear."

'My wife lives with guilt of not seeing her mum before she died'

Image source, Jamie Briffett
Image caption,
Only nine people were allowed at Jamie Briffett's mother-in-law's funeral

A man whose mother-in-law died alone 10 days before the Downing Street drinks party says he finds it infuriating that the government seemingly broke its own rules.

Jamie Briffett, from Caerphilly in Wales, says only nine people could attend the funeral.

His wife was shielding as she waited for a liver transplant which she had in October 2020, he says.

"She has this deep regret and guilt that she could not be with her mother in her final days, she will feel that the rest of her life," he says.

"We find it absolutely infuriating and irresponsible that the government could go ahead and have a party while so many of their fellow citizens were abiding by the rules.

"This is totally unacceptable and absolutely shocking," he says. "The PM should come clean and own up and face the music."

'Instead of holding my mum, I was filming my brother dying'

Image caption,
Lisa Wilkie and her brother Graham, who died in May 2020

Lisa Wilkie's brother Graham was in hospital in intensive care on 20 May 2020 - the day the Downing Street garden drinks happened.

He died a few days later. Covid rules meant relatives could not be with him or grieve together.

"Instead of holding my mum, I was holding my phone, filming my brother dying," she tells BBC News.

"People sacrificed so much. People died sticking to the rules and they [the Downing Street party guests] broke those rules to have a bottle of wine."

'I was left alone hours after a traumatic birth'

Image caption,
Lydia said she felt alone during some of the most difficult moments

Lydia East gave birth to her son, Ellis, after a traumatic emergency Caesarean section. Covid rules meant that hours later, her husband Adam was sent home, leaving her alone in the hospital.

She says it's upsetting to hear 100 people were invited to the Downing Street party, when she couldn't have one person to hold her hand during what was, at one point, a life-and-death situation.

When her newborn son was crying, she recounts having no loved ones there to help during the difficult moments.

"There were times when he was crying, and I'd gone to get out of the hospital bed and just got stuck, basically, because I was attached to a drip," she says.

"I couldn't reach the call button because it was on the other side of the bed."

'I was sweating in PPE while No 10 were having drinks'

Image caption,
Dr Saleyha Ahsan lost her father to Covid

An NHS doctor has described Boris Johnson's apology over the Downing Street drinks as insulting, as she recalls how she was sweating while working in full PPE around the same time as the event took place.

Dr Saleyha Ahsan, who lost her father to Covid, says she believes the prime minister's situation is now untenable.

Hearing of "yet another wrongdoing, another slip-up" by those at the top of government is "traumatising", she says, and healthcare workers "collectively feel insulted".

"And what was I doing in May 2020? I was dressed in PPE. Yeah, the weather was warm. I was sweating. Trying not to pass out every time I went into the contamination room to see a patient who had Covid in our full PPE.

"We weren't going out in the evenings to gather as colleagues to have drinks."

Additional reporting by Doug Faulkner, Graham Satchell, Vicki Young and UGC.

Downing Street party row

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