Cathy Gardner’s story has just hit the Mirror!


Woman whose dad died in care home to take government to court over coronavirus

Tom Pilgrim 
A woman is launching High Court proceedings over the Government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, after her 88-year-old father died in a care home.

Cathy Gardner, chair of East Devon District Council is accusing the government of “avoiding responsibility” and taking a “casual approach” over care home outbreaks.

Ms Gardner’s father, Michael Gibson, who had Alzheimer’s, died in an Oxfordshire care home on April 3 after it accepted the return of a resident from hospital who previously had Covid-19 symptoms and had tested positive.

Mr Gibson, who was not tested for the virus, had a recorded cause of death as probable Covid-19.

His daughter’s legal action hinges on allegations that guidance issued to care homes during February and March saw the Government breach its legal duty to protect care home residents and workers.

She said she was left “appalled” by comments from Health Secretary Matt Hancock in May in which he said a “protective ring” had been placed around care homes during the crisis.

Ms Gardner added: “The truth is that there has been, at best, a casual approach to protecting the residents of care homes; at worst, the Government have adopted a policy that has caused the death of the most vulnerable in our society.

“It is completely unacceptable that this happened and that responsibility has been avoided.”

A letter sent to Mr Hancock earlier this month by her lawyer, Paul Conrathe of Sinclairslaw, said Ms Gardner believed policies adopted by the Mr Hancock, NHS England and Public Health England had “manifestly failed to protect the health, wellbeing and right to life of those residing and working in care homes”.

It claimed: “Their failings have led to large numbers of unnecessary deaths and serious illnesses.

“In addition, the failings of Government have been aggravated by the making of wholly disingenuous, misleading and – in some cases – plainly false statements suggesting that everything necessary has been done to protect care homes during the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, a lawyer representing the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK group said an immediate interim inquiry was needed into the Government’s current and future health policies to protect lives if there is a second peak of the virus.

Elkan Abrahamson, from the law firm Broudie Jackson Canter, told the Press Association news agency that scrutinising policy was about “life or death decisions”.

He suggested an inquiry could be led by a High Court judge, supported by expert assessors, to examine issues such as returning children to school, personal protective equipment (PPE) provision and care home policy.

He argued that the Government was “not being specific” in its approach and needed to “win back public confidence”.

“You lose the public confidence and you lose compliance with guidance, that’s the real problem,” Mr Abramhamson said.

He added: “What’s going to happen when the next spike comes, which it will? What are they going to do about lockdown? What are they going to do about PPE? What are they going to do about protecting care homes?

“All these things have not really been properly explained by the Government.”

Mr Abrahamson said: “People are dying now and people will be dying during the next spike, perhaps needlessly.”

The lawyer said families had told him that “my loved one’s life could have been saved”, and they had criticised the delay in introducing lockdown and the shortages of PPE.

Matt Fowler, the founder of the group of families, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme today: “I absolutely believe that my dad’s death could have been prevented if things were handled in a different manner.

“He was only 56, so he has gone way, way before his time.”

Asked whether different Government decisions could have saved the life of his father, Mr Fowler said: “Absolutely.”

He said legal action was justified to try to force an immediate probe, stating: “If my actions can save one life, it may seem inconsequential to the people at large, but that person’s family, that person can be their entire world.”

A Government spokesman said he could not comment on possible legal action over its care homes policy.

Responding to calls for an inquiry, the spokesman said: “At some point in the future there will be an opportunity for us to look back, to reflect and to learn some profound lessons.

“But at the moment, the most important thing to do is to focus on responding to the current situation.”

Cathy Gardner’s legal challenge over Care Homes also well publicised on the BBC

The national publicity Cathy Gardner’s story has received today (BBC and The Guardian) has helped to boost crowdfunding so that a new target of £50K has been set. She has already had to commit to the next formal set of legal actions because of time constraints. This is when costs begin to mount and crowdfunding becomes critical to her ability to continue.

The Government can be expected to reply at the last moment to spin things out. – Owl

Keep spreading the news! Holding the Government to account on Care Homes is something we should all support – Dr Cathy Gardner is leading the way on our behalves.

Coronavirus: Government sued over care home deaths ‘disgrace’

A woman who said goodbye to her dying father through a care home window is suing the government over his death.

Dr Cathy Gardner’s father, Michael Gibson, 88, died of probable Covid-19 related causes on 3 April.

Her case, which accuses the government of unlawfully exposing thousands of care home residents to serious harm, will be filed at the High Court today.

The Department for Health and Social Care said it could not comment on ongoing legal proceedings.

Dr Gardner, from Sidmouth, Devon, said her father’s death was part of a “national disgrace”.

She added her case was about everybody, including care home residents, staff and the family members of those who had been put at risk or died.

More than 14,000 people have died from coronavirus in England and Wales care homes since the start of the pandemic.

The government has faced criticism for policies allowing patients to be discharged from hospitals into care homes without being tested for Covid-19.

Lawyers representing Dr Gardner sent a pre-action letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, NHS England and Public Health England on 2 June, demanding they admit those policies were unlawful.

The government has until Tuesday to respond but lawyer Paul Conrathe, representing Dr Gardner, said the case needed to be lodged on Friday before receiving a reply due to time limits.

“Legally the state is required to protect its citizens, protect their right to life,” he said.

“Our view is not only did they not protect them but they actively exposed them to harm.”

Mr Gibson, who had Alzheimer’s, was a resident at the Cherwood House Care Centre, near Bicester, Oxfordshire.


Changing advice

  • On 19 March, NHS guidance said “unless required to be in hospital, patients must not remain in an NHS bed”
  • On 2 April, the rules on discharging to care homes were clarified, saying “negative [coronavirus] tests are not required prior to transfers/admissions into the care home”
  • From 15 April, the government said all patients discharged from hospitals would be tested for coronavirus

Dr Gardner, who praised the care he was given there, was able to see him through a window the night before he died.

She said: “This was heart-breaking, it’s not how I imagined his last days would be.”

His cause of death was recorded as probable Covid-19-related but he had not been tested.

Dr Gardner’s lawyers claim that prior to his death the care home had been pressured into taking a hospital patient who had tested positive for Covid-19 but “had not had a temperature for about 72 hours”.

Dr Gardner, a microbiologist with a PhD in virology, said: “Somebody needed to take the lead and I thought … I can so I should.

“It is a national disgrace and it needs to be held up as such and not just brushed under the carpet.”

Dr Gardner, who is also chair of East Devon District Council, is crowdfunding to help cover legal fees and has so far raised £10,000. [Now raised to £50K – Owl]

Chief nurse was dropped from coronavirus briefings ‘after refusing to back Dominic Cummings’

England’s chief nurse was dropped from one of Downing Street’s daily coronavirus briefings after refusing to publicly back Dominic Cummings, senior sources have told The Independent

…Separately Whitehall officials are critical of what they see as No 10’s grip on the daily briefings and the way the science and health advice is being used.

(Owl recalls a correspondent recently describing the civil servants who flank the daily No 10 briefing as “alter boys” and “alter girls”)

Shaun Lintern Health Correspondent 

As Boris Johnson’s chief aide was engulfed in scandal over his trips to Durham and Barnard Castle during lockdown, Ruth May had been due to appear alongside health secretary Matt Hancock in the press conference.

But, in practice questions hours before the briefing, she was asked about Mr Cummings and, after failing to give support to the prime minister’s chief adviser, she was immediately dropped from the press conference, according to senior NHS sources.

Instead the health secretary had to present the slides on Covid-19 himself for the first time, alongside Professor John Newton from Public Health England. The incident, on 1 June, was two days after England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam sparked headlines by saying that lockdown rules “apply to all” when asked about Mr Cummings. He has not appeared at the press conferences since 30 May.

A senior NHS source said: “A No 10 SPAD [special adviser] asked her directly how she would answer the Dominic Cummings question and she refused to play along and told them she would answer the same way as Jonathan Van-Tam. She was dropped immediately from the press briefing.”

Another added: “JVT was the first to publicly push back on TV. Everyone is being asked to support the government positions prior to doing a press conference. If they don’t, they get dropped.

“First it was Dominic Cummings, then easing lockdown and now the R-rate and the two-metre rule.”

Separately Whitehall officials are critical of what they see as No 10’s grip on the daily briefings and the way the science and health advice is being used.

No 10 has previously touted the briefings – with ministers alongside health and scientific advisers – as an opportunity for the public to get advice directly from the experts on coronavirus. When they began in March, Downing Street said they would focus on informing the public “on how to protect themselves”.

In April, when questions from members of the public were introduced alongside those from journalists, the prime minister’s official spokesman said it was “absolutely right that the public gets the chance to put their questions to the government and its experts”.

Mr Johnson repeatedly insisted that public adherence to lockdown would not be affected by the revelations involving Mr Cummings.

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On 28 May, he blocked chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance from answering a media question about the affair, before both men insisted that as civil servants they did not want to be pulled into politics.

The chief nurse was also due to appear at the press conference on 5 June, but did not after being delayed by traffic.

Asked to comment, No 10 said it strongly denied the claims that she had been dropped over her views on Mr Cummings and added that health and scientific advisers would continue to take questions in the briefings. NHS England was also approached for comment.

More on Cumming’s Durham hideaway – is the Council Tax being paid?

Extract from the Mirror 11 June

Durham County Council received a string of complaints about the home Boris Johnson’s aide travelled 250 miles to stay in at the end of March.

Now the council has said it found “historic breaches of planning and building control regulations”.

But it did not say what those breaches were, and said no enforcement action would be taken because of a time limit on doing so.

The council has referred separate complaints ” in respect of non-payment of Council Tax” to the Valuation Office for “consideration and review”.

Readying the NHS and adult social care in England for COVID-19 – National Audit Office (NAO) Press release


Readying the NHS and adult social care in England for COVID-19 – National Audit Office (NAO) Press release

For Meg Hillier’s (Chair of the Public Accounts Committee) comments see this post.

Today’s report by the National Audit Office (NAO) provides a factual overview of the response by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and other bodies during March and April 2020 to prepare the NHS and adult social care in England for the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the second report in the NAO’s programme of work on government’s response to the outbreak.

After declaring a Level 4 National Incident1 in relation to COVID-19 in late January, on 17 March the NHS set out measures to prepare for a surge in infections. From 13 March DHSC began to issue guidance to the care sector before publishing an action plan for adult social care on 15 April. So far, government has allocated £6.6 billion from the Coronavirus Emergency Fund to support the health and social care response to COVID-19 and £3.2 billion directly to local authorities to respond to COVID-19 pressures across local services.

Action taken by the NHS to increase capacity meant there were enough beds and respiratory support nationally at the peak of the outbreak in April. Between mid-March and mid-April, the NHS increased the number of beds available for COVID-19 patients from 12,600 to 53,700, by, for example, discharging patients and postponing elective, or planned, procedures. Planned activity fell by 24% in March 2020 compared to March 2019. The NHS also contracted with private hospitals to use up to an additional 8,000 beds, and established temporary Nightingale hospitals.

This meant that nationally the number of COVID-19 patients never exceeded the number of available beds. From early March to mid-May, available ventilators and other oxygen support also increased, with the number of mechanical ventilators rising from 9,600 to 13,200. Over the April peak, the NHS also met the national demand for oxygen supply.

Other measures implemented to help the NHS cope with the outbreak included the temporary deployment of 18,200 additional staff to clinical and support roles, of which around 8,000 were retired or former staff making themselves available for such roles.

There have been numerous outbreaks of COVID-19 within adult care homes in England, with more than one in three reporting an outbreak between 9 March and 17 May. This peaked at just over 1,000 homes in the first week of April. Some parts of the country were more affected than others, with the North East being the area with the largest proportion of its care homes (just under half) reporting an outbreak by 17 May.

Patients discharged quickly from hospitals between mid-March and mid-April were sometimes placed in care homes without being tested for COVID-19. On 17 March, hospitals were advised to discharge urgently all in-patients medically fit to leave in order to increase capacity to support those with acute healthcare needs. Between 17 March and 15 April, around 25,000 people were discharged from hospitals into care homes, compared with around 35,000 people in the same period in 2019. Due to government policy at the time, not all patients were tested for COVID-19 before discharge, with priority given to patients with symptoms. On 15 April, the policy was changed to test all those being discharged into care homes. It is not known how many patients discharged to care homes had COVID-19 at the point they left hospital.

The £3.2 billion funding for local authorities was to help them respond to COVID-19 pressures across all the services they deliver, including adult social care. Some in the sector are concerned that local authorities have not increased the rates they pay to care providers. In a survey by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, around half of local authorities said they were temporarily increasing rates.

Testing for health and social care workers has faced challenges. On 17 March the NHS announced that testing would begin being rolled out to NHS staff with symptoms. Limits on testing capacity meant tests started to be rolled out to symptomatic NHS staff from 27 March. This was extended to care workers on 15 April and to the rest of their households two days later. From 28 April, all care home staff were eligible for tests but the DHSC capped the daily amount of care home tests at 30,000, to be shared between staff and residents. The government does not know how many NHS or care workers have been tested in total during the pandemic. Based just on tests carried out by the NHS, NHS England & NHS Improvement estimates that the number of NHS staff and the people they live with who were tested increased from 1,500 to 11,500 a day during April.

A range of bodies across health and social care have raised concerns about the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE). At the start of the outbreak, the only central stockpile of PPE was designed for a flu pandemic. Although an independent committee advising on stockpile contents had recommended in 2019 that items such as gowns and visors should be included, these had not been stockpiled. The central procurement route set up to supply PPE during the outbreak met the modelled PPE requirement (under a worst case scenario) for some items in NHS trusts, but distributed 50% or less of the modelled requirement for gowns, eye protectors, or aprons. It only addressed a small proportion of the modelled requirement for PPE among social care providers.

Within its wider programme of COVID-19 related work, the NAO will undertake more detailed assessments of specific elements of the health and social care response, which will also help to identify lessons for subsequent stages of this pandemic and other future emergencies.

Care homes were ‘afterthought’ with devastating coronavirus consequences

Years of failed efforts to integrate NHS and social care hampered the response to the coronavirus crisis, according to the first independent report into preparations for the pandemic.

This article is based on a National Audit Office (NAO) report published today. Owl publishes the NAO press release separately.

Meanwhile Dr Cathy Gardner’s Judicial Review takes another step forward.

Kat Lay, Health Correspondent 

The National Audit Office report into the work done to prepare services showed that care home residents were “an afterthought”, Meg Hillier, the chairwoman of the Commons public accounts committee, said last night.

The report said that 25,000 hospital patients had been discharged to care homes at the height of the pandemic. It said: “Due to government policy at the time, not all patients were tested for Covid-19 before discharge, with priority given to patients with symptoms.” It also found that one in three homes for the elderly had suffered virus outbreaks.

Ms Hillier said: “Care homes were at the back of the queue for both PPE and testing so only got a small fraction of what they needed from central government. Residents and staff were an afterthought yet again: out of sight and out of mind, with devastating consequences.”

The report highlighted a “problematic” relationship between social care and the NHS. It said: “We have reported on successive efforts to integrate the two sectors: there have been 12 government white papers, green papers and consultations, and five independent reviews on integration over the past 20 years.

“Going into the pandemic, meaningful integration was still to occur, however, and the lack of it has made responding to the crisis more difficult in a number of ways.”

Issues included a lack of clear data available from social care because of its fragmented nature, with about 20,000 independent providers.

The report found that only a fraction of necessary PPE reached care homes and hospitals from central stocks, and that calls for gowns and eye protection to be added to government pandemic stockpiles had not been heeded.

Central stocks had supplied only 20 per cent of the gowns, 33 per cent of the eye protection and 50 per cent of aprons that models had suggested were needed in health settings under a “reasonable worst-case scenario”, the report said. It added: “Central stocks distributed to social care accounted for 15 per cent or less of the modelled requirement for any item of PPE, apart from facemasks.”

Ms Hillier said frontline health workers had been “badly let down by the government’s failure to prepare properly”. She added: “Shockingly, the government squandered the last opportunity to add to the central PPE stockpile, even after the NHS had gone to the highest level of alert.”

The report, which covers the period since the NHS moved to its most severe incident level in January, also found that despite testing being available for health staff in some form since the end of March, ministers still did not know how many NHS or care workers had been tested in total.

Jeremy Hunt, chairman of the Commons health and social care committee and a former health secretary, said: “It seems extraordinary that no one appeared to consider the clinical risk to care homes despite widespread knowledge that the virus could be carried asymptomatically. Places like Germany and Hong Kong took measures to protect their care homes that we did not over a critical four-week period.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “We have delivered over 1.7 billion pieces of PPE and continue to ensure supplies reach the frontline. The modelled PPE requirements presented in this report are theoretical worst-case estimates — it is misleading to compare them to figures on centrally procured PPE which do not account for equipment supplied through other routes or existing local stocks.”


Matt Hancock faces legal action from daughter of Covid-19 care home victim – Cathy Gardner’s case gets National Coverage

Just posted on the Guardian web site in the past few hours.

“Dr Cathy Gardner launched a high court claim on Friday after her father, Michael Gibson, a retired superintendent of births, marriages and deaths, died in an Oxfordshire care home in early April. He became infected after a patient who tested positive for the virus was discharged from hospital into the home.”

Owl understands that Dr Cathy Gardner has had to commence proceedings in the High Court. There is a strict timetable of when various formal steps have to be taken and Owl assumes that she is now seeking a “permission” from the High Court. This is a paper exercise in which a High Court Judge reviews the case to see whether it is an arguable one in court and therefore can be pursued further.

When Sky News reported the story a week ago they quoted independent barrister James Robottom as saying “I’ve got absolutely no doubt that permission will be granted by the High Court to proceed to judicial review.”

At this stage costs begin to mount and Owl would encourage all those who care about the state of our Care Homes to back the  crowdfunding of her case to the hilt.


Robert Booth 

Matt Hancock is facing legal action from the daughter of a man who died from Covid-19 in a care home in which the health secretary is accused of a “litany of failures” and misleading the public with his claim to have “thrown a protective ring” around care homes.

Dr Cathy Gardner launched a high court claim on Friday after her father, Michael Gibson, a retired superintendent of births, marriages and deaths, died in an Oxfordshire care home in early April. He became infected after a patient who tested positive for the virus was discharged from hospital into the home. 

The request for a judicial review alleges failings “have led to large numbers of unnecessary deaths and serious illnesses” and have been “aggravated by the making of wholly disingenuous, misleading and – in some cases – plainly false statements suggesting that everything necessary has been done to protect care homes during the pandemic”.

The move comes amid growing anger among families of care home residents at policies they believe may have caused their loved ones to become infected. Several have raised complaints with hospitals and care homes about infection control, including the discharging of Covid-negative residents into homes with outbreaks.

Thirty-five councils have also blamed virus spread on discharges with hospital patients sent to homes that did not have sufficient protective equipment and/or facilities to isolate infected residents.

Other cases include a decision to discharge John Heywood, 83, from Addenbroke’s hospital in Cambridge into a Peterborough care facility with an outbreak. He contracted the virus and survived, but his family have lodged a formal complaint with Addenbroke’s.

“I was really upset and angry,” said his daughter, Sarah Hayward. “I called the [hospital] discharge planning team and they said there was no obligation to tell us if there’s Covid in a home. I felt it was out of our control. It didn’t make sense. How on earth could they do that?”

Addenbroke’s said it would launch a full investigation, but only after the Covid-19 crisis has passed. In a statement, Cambridge University hospitals medical director, Dr Ashley Shaw, said: “Our discharge planning team take great care in ensuring that decisions are made in the best interests of patients, and that the facility to which a patient is being discharged is able to support the patient’s needs at that time.”

In another case, the family of Hughie Leyland, 90, believe he contracted the virus and died aged 90 at the Westwood Hall care home in Wirral after it accepted discharged hospital patients. 

“You don’t put people from a hospital where they may have had the virus into a place with the most vulnerable people,” said his daughter-in-law, Charlie Leyland. “If this was one mistake, that’s one thing, but it has been happening all around.” 

Leyland entered the home on 23 March, at a time when Department of Health guidance stated that “negative tests are not required prior to transfers/ admissions into the care home”. It was not until 16 April that the government announced NHS patients being discharged into care homes would be first tested for Covid-19. Leyland died on 19 April.

The home owner, Springcare Ltd, said: “Our overall experience of the testing programme introduced by the government has been poor. Guidance on testing people prior to discharge from hospital … changed when the virus was most virulent and there was heightened media coverage on the rising number of cases in care homes of residents who were testing positive or symptomatic.”

The Care Quality Commission is also investigating claims that “a patient’s positive Covid-19 status was known to the hospital but not disclosed at the point of discharge” – a potential breach of the Health and Social Care Act. More than 15,000 people have died from known or suspected Covid-19 in UK care homes.

In the letter initiating her claim that Hancock, the secretary of state for health and social care, breached his legal duty, Gardner’s lawyers allege “policies and measures adopted by the health secretary, NHS England and Public Health England have manifestly failed to protect the health, well-being and right to life of those residing and working in care homes”.

Gardner said she hoped her case would focus attention on decisions to order care homes to accept hospital discharges, the struggle to access enough personal protective equipment and a lack of comprehensive testing. She is crowdfunding for legal costs, which she estimates could reach £60,000. 

“By the time the government said they were going to introduce testing [for hospital discharges on 15 April] people had already died. My father died on 3 April. The time to protect the care homes was at the beginning.

“I want to hold them to account and this seems to be the best way of doing it. We are looking for an admission of wrongdoing and policies to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Her case alleges: 

  •  The government breached its obligation “to take appropriate steps to safeguard the lives of those within its jurisdiction” and to do “all that could have been required of it to prevent … life from being avoidably put at risk” as set out in the European convention on human rights. 
  • The government breached the National Health Service Act 2006 requiring it protect “the public in England from disease or other dangers to health” and the Equalities Act – equal and fair treatment of individuals with protected characteristics of age and disability and also potentially race.

It highlights the Department of Health and Social Care’s February guidance to care homes that it was “very unlikely that anyone receiving care in a care home or the community will become infected” and the advice in March that “negative tests are not required prior to transfers/admissions into the care home”.

The case highlights the Public Health England guidance to care homes on 13 March that did not ban visits and instructions from NHS England on 17 March that “community health providers must take full responsibility for urgent discharge of all eligible patients identified by acute providers” and health ministry guidance in April that “negative tests are not required prior to transfers/ admissions into the care home”

It also demands to see the evidence behind Boris Johnson’s statement on 13 May, that “we brought in the lockdown in care homes ahead of the general lockdown”, and said Hancock and the other agencies “formulated and applied a policy in respect of care homes that is different to the policy that they have publicly declared”.Hancock has previously said that “from the start, we have worked hard to protect those in social care”. He told parliament last month: “We will not rest in doing whatever is humanly possible to protect our care homes from this appalling virus, to make sure that residents and care colleagues have the safety and security they deserve.”The Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England said they could not comment on ongoing legal proceedings.


Ministers have spent just £16,500 on Pick for Britain campaign to support the farming sector

More disappointing news for farmers – the Government appears to be giving only token support – Owl

“..despite ministers pledging from early March that they would help the farming industry with a recruitment campaign, a Freedom of Information request shows that no money was spent on the drive in April and just £16,500 up to 18 May, the latest date for which figures are available.”

By Jane MerrickJune 11, 2020

Exclusive: FOI request by the Lib Dems reveals low spending on recruitment drive for UK fruit and veg pickers

The campaign to recruit tens of thousands of fruit pickers to help the farming sector through the pandemic has spent just £16,500 of government money, it has emerged.

The Government’s “Pick for Britain” scheme was launched in April to meet a shortage of European agricultural workers who are unable to travel to the UK because of coronavirus.

Yet despite ministers pledging from early March that they would help the farming industry with a recruitment campaign, a Freedom of Information request shows that no money was spent on the drive in April and just £16,500 up to 18 May, the latest date for which figures are available.

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The Liberal Democrats, who submitted the FOI request, claimed the low spending showed that Boris Johnson was not doing enough to prevent food shortages in the wake of the pandemic.


Tim Farron, the Lib Dems’ rural affairs spokesman and former leader, said the spending was a “pittance” given the importance the Government had placed on the Pick for Britain campaign.

Every year around 80,000 seasonal workers, many of them from Eastern Europe, pick fruit and vegetables on British farms, but the National Farmers Union has said the sector would still need around half that amount to plug the shortfall in the workforce due to Covid-19.

The revelation follows a warning by the British Retail Consortium last week that there could be an “even bigger challenge” to UK food supplies than coronavirus if there is a no-deal Brexit.

In March, ministers said they would need to recruit UK fruit and vegetable pickers and in April, the “Pick for Britain” website was launched. But it was only on 19 May that the campaign took centre stage at the daily Downing Street press briefing on coronavirus, highlighted by Environment Secretary George Eustice.

No deal concerns

The FOI response from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says: “There has been no amount spent by Defra on any aspect of Pick for Britain campaign from its inception up to 30 April 2020.

“There has been £16,500 spent by Defra on the Pick for Britain campaign from 1 May 2020 to 18 May 2020. Please note that Defra does not run the Pick for Britain website, so incurs no cost here. The budget for future spending by Defra for this campaign is £83,500.”

Mr Farron said: “Farming communities up and down the country are rightly concerned about the impact of a no-deal Brexit. A bad deal for farmers is a bad deal for consumers.

“The pittance Conservative ministers have spent so far to get people into vital jobs across the agricultural sector shows their cavalier attitude to the enormous risk of food shortages in the UK.

“It is time to come good on promises. Ministers must help secure the essential labour that farmers rely on to bring in the harvest, whether that’s by further investing in local recruitment or doing more to maintain the labour we have relied on from overseas.”

Mr Farron said the Prime Minister should remove his “arbitrary deadline” for Brexit and extend the transition period to help the country adjust following the pandemic.

Last week Andrew Opie, chairman of the British Retail Consortium, told the Environment Food and Rural Affairs select committee: “If we get a disorderly Brexit, we potentially face a bigger challenge than the food supply chain faced in Covid.

“Then we do not have the food in the country to move around, which is the bit we did really well in this crisis.

“We need to focus on having a proper Brexit decision made in advance of January. Otherwise, we have potentially a bigger problem than we had in Covid.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “Seasonal workers are essential to help farmers and growers bring in the harvest every year, which is why we’ve been working hard to ensure farmers and growers have the support they need during this time – connecting potential workers with job opportunities via the Pick for Britain hub we developed with industry.

“There has been strong interest in these opportunities across the country and a number of growers have already signed up the new recruits they needed for their farms. We encourage people to keep checking the Pick for Britain website for new vacancies as the season progresses.”

This story has been updated with response from Defra.

DPP threatened with legal action over failure to investigate Dominic Cummings

The director of public prosecutions, Max Hill, is being threatened with legal action over the failure to investigate Dominic Cummings for alleged breaches of the lockdown rules.

Director of public prosecutions threatened with legal action over failure to investigate Dominic Cummings

Matthew Weave 

A legal team, headed by the barrister Michael Mansfield, has twice written to Hill, expressing concern that no action has yet been taken against Cummings after a Guardian and Daily Mirror investigation revealed the prime minister’s chief adviser travelled with his family to Durham and Barnard Castle during the lockdown.

The letters were sent on 3 and 8 June on behalf of Martin Redston, a 70-year-old London engineer who is concerned that the lockdown laws should apply to everyone irrespective of their position in government.

Replying to Redston’s second letter, Hill’s office confirmed his complaint had been passed to a special crime division of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and a full response would follow in “due course”. But it stopped short of saying the matter was being actively considered, as requested by Redston’s legal team, which also includes the firm Hackett & Dabbs.

In a new letter to Hill sent on Tuesday, Redston’s lawyers claim the failure to provide a substantive response were grounds for a judicial review. And it threatened to begin proceedings if no action is taken by Hill by 4pm on Thursday 11 June.

The letter said the demand for urgency was “proportionate” given “a very serious loss of public confidence in the due process of the rule of law” at a time of a continued public health emergency that requires public compliance. It also warned any delay risked losing evidence such as CCTV footage and credit card records relating to Cummings’ movements in the north-east.

The letter also pointed out that in his statement from the rose garden of Downing Street, Cummings admitted returning to work at No 10 on 27 March after tending to his wife who was displaying symptoms of coronavirus. He then admitted travelling to Durham with his wife to seek childcare for their four-year-old son, the letter pointed out.

A spokesman for Hill and the CPS said: “We have responded to the letter today referring those involved to the relevant police force as investigating alleged offences is a matter for the police not the CPS.”

Redston’s lawyers point out that under the CPS’s own policy it may receive an allegation of an offence from a member of the public and can refer such cases to the police.

Redston, whose complaint is being funded by donations to Crowd Justice, said: “The prime minister was absolutely unequivocal when he said people needed to ‘Stay at home, Protect the NHS and Save Lives’. The rules were entirely clear and should apply to everyone.”

He said he was prevented from attending a friend’s funeral due to the lockdown restrictions. And he has also been unable to see his grandchildren since the start of the outbreak.

After recovering from coronavirus, Cummings admitted travelling to Barnard Castle with his family on 12 April to test his eyesight.

An initial three-day investigation by Durham police into Cummings’ travels found that he might have breached health protection regulations when he took a 52-mile round trip to the town.

But it said Cummings’ 516-mile round trip from London to Durham and back had not broken health protection regulations. The force decided to take no further action after making no finding in relation to “stay at home” government guidance.

On Sunday, a separate campaign for a new investigation into Cummings over alleged breaches was launched, by lawyers with the backing of health workers and some families of coronavirus victims.

  • The headline of this article was amended on 11 June 2020 because an earlier version referred to the director of public prosecutions as the “UK’s top prosecutor”. The position relates to England and Wales, not the UK.