Cost of Crown Office investigation into Scottish care home death rises above £350,000
More than 1,274 deaths in care homes have been reported to the Crown Office since the COPFS started investigating them in May. As of December 11, a total of 416 care homes were being investigated by the Crown's dedicated Covid-19 Deaths Investigation Team.
However, those statistics come as the Crown refused to answer which criminal offences were within scope of the investigation, despite not ruling out criminal charges once investigations had concluded.
In a response to a Freedom of Information request, the Crown said it was for the Scottish Government or Police Scotland to answer how many care homes or staff have been contacted as part of the investigation.
They added they could not answer whether any civil servants or MSPs had been interviewed as part of the process.
The Crown added it would not provide a running commentary to an ongoing investigation. The investigation had cost at least £354,074 as of Thursday.
However, the secrecy around the investigations has led to criticism from some opposition politicians, who have repeated calls for an inquiry into Covid-19’s impact on care homes to start immediately.
Donald Cameron, the Scottish Conservatives’ health spokesperson, said those who made decisions around care homes “must be held responsible”.
He said: “The Scottish Conservatives have been demanding an immediate care home inquiry is started by SNP ministers in order to give grieving families the answers they need.
“The fact that the costs of this investigation are spiralling, and the Crown is being evasive about key elements of its investigation, only highlights the need for that independent inquiry to start now.”
Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson Monica Lennon said “no stone should be left unturned” during the investigation.
She said: “The initial costs underline this is a serious investigation. Bereaved families of residents and staff deserve answers, especially on the reckless transfer of Covid patients into care homes.
“The COPFS and SNP ministers need to recognise that the public must have confidence in the process. Secrecy is undermining public trust.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP said families deserved “comprehensive answers”.
He said: "It is right that everyone connected is interviewed and every tragedy is examined, but a long inquiry risks us missing out on simple lessons that could be learned now. That's why the Lib Dems have called for a rapid interim report to be produced with actions that need taking now.”
Scottish Greens justice spokesperson John Finnie said: “This is a serious issue and the most important thing is that any investigation into what has happened in care homes is given the time and space to get it right.”
A COPFS spokesman said: “The COPFS has established a dedicated team to deal with reports of Covid-19 or presumed Covid-19 deaths in care homes or where the deceased may have contracted the virus in the course of their employment.
“The team will work with the relevant agencies to ensure that all necessary and appropriate investigations are undertaken and that each investigation progresses as expediently as it can.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said every care home death was “an individual tragedy” and it would be “inappropriate” to comment on an ongoing investigation.