Woman whose dad died alone in hospital 'haunted' by Sue Gray's report into partygate

Phil Smith, from Crickhowell, was a loving father and grandfather – but in January 2021, he caught Covid in hospital.

His daughter, Sam, couldn't see him due to the lockdown restrictions in force at the time.

She had to send a text to a nurse in the hope that it would be read out to her dad to say her goodbyes.

He died alone in hospital, unable to have his family by his side.

Now, Sam, who is an active member of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Cymru group, says that she is "haunted" by what Sue Gray's report has revealed about gatherings in Downing Street during the pandemic.

Sam had to send her goodbyes via text message to a nurse - but to this day, she doesn't know if the message reached him. Credit: Sam Smith-Higgins

Sam explained: "Having spoken to so many families and knowing how I feel, I think the word is that we're all haunted by it. We're all haunted by the trauma of not being there, or not being there on the run up even, to losing our mums, our dads, our sons, our daughters.

"To think that the UK government was partying while I was texting my farewells to a nurse... What can you say?

"I don't even feel angry today, I feel sad. I just feel really sad.

"My dad and the other 10,000 people in Wales who died deserve better. My dad wasn't out drinking and partying.

"We barely saw him because he was keeping himself safe, keeping himself locked away. It's just a feeling of sadness and bewilderment, not even anger now."

Sam is now calling for a Wales-specific inquiry into the handling of the pandemic Credit: Sam Smith-Higgins

Sue Gray, the senior civil servant asked to investigate the parties at Downing Street, today laid bare the catalogue of rule breaking at Number 10 – and concluded senior leadership must bear responsibility for the party culture during lockdown.

The Prime Minister said today: "I take full responsibility for everything that took place on my watch.

"Sue Gray’s report has emphasised that it is up to the political leadership in No10 to take the ultimate responsibility, and of course I do."

Addressing his own involvement in leaving parties at No10, he said: "I briefly attended such gatherings to thank them for their service, which I believe is one of the essential duties of leadership and particularly important when people need to feel that their contributions have been appreciated and to keep morale as high as possible."

So how do voters now view Boris Johnson?

We asked people in Bridgend, an area that voted Conservative at the last UK election, if they still have confidence in him as Prime Minister.

One Bridgend resident said he thought that the partygate scandal has been a "big overreaction."

"He's only been done for one, hasn't he? And it was his birthday, let's be honest... He was only in there nine minutes," he said.

Another voter from Bridgend was doubtful of Boris Johnson's integrity.

"I appreciate what he has done for Brexit and the pandemic, but as a man you can't believe a word he says," she said.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know

Boris Johnson managed to win several traditional Labour seats like Bridgend after promising he would be a different kind of Prime Minister - and it does seem that he's been able to navigate several difficult moments that could well have scuppered other leaders.

Today, again, he remained defiant as the full report into parties in Downing St was released.

But opposition Welsh MPs were united in their calls for Mr Johnson to quit.

Boris Johnson will hope the publication of Sue Gray's report can help to shut down the debate on lockdown parties at Downing St – but it could well open a wider question over what his government is actually trying to achieve.