One of the most anticipated testimonies at the official inquiry into the UK’s handling of the Covid pandemic is not from a politician, but from a scientist – at the center of the process decision-maker who, as it later emerged, kept a detailed diary.
Sir Patrick Vallance, who is giving evidence to the inquiry on Monday, was the UK government’s chief scientific adviser for a five-year term which ended in April this year, leading it through the Covid period.
As such, the man who held a vital but usually quiet and inconspicuous position had suddenly appeared regularly on television screens. Co-hosting press conferences on the virus with politicians, he was responsible for providing scientific context for their responses.
Alongside Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, and Jonathan Van-Tam, who was Whitty’s deputy, Vallance became a public constant of the pandemic, his gentle, almost owlish demeanor not always masking mild exasperation at the approach of Boris Johnson and others.
One of the revelations of the investigation so far is that throughout this period Vallance kept a contemporary and detailed diary. Although described by Vallance as simply a “brain dump”, partly to keep him calm, the night paper is a vital chronicle of this period, written by someone outside of daily politics.
Vallance lawyers fought to prevent Entire pages of the newspaper were shown during the investigation, which was disputed by the media, while the legal battle is still ongoing.
But even the carefully selected and typed extracts revealed so far have at times proved explosive, exposing Vallance’s frustration with politicians such as Johnson and Rishi Sunak, as well as recounting their memories of what they said.
One extract read as part of the investigation showed Johnson in October 2020 describing Covid as “just nature’s way of treating older people”, while another quoted Mark Sedwill, at the time Britain’s most senior civil servant. United, calling Johnson’s government “brutal and unnecessary.”
Other memories from the newspaper concern Sunak, who was chancellor during Covid. One shows Johnson calling Sunak’s department a “pro-death squad” over its resistance to lockdown measures; in another article, Vallance himself said Sunak had made “increasingly specific and spurious arguments” against the new restrictions on hospitality businesses.
None of these assertions have so far been denied by the witnesses to whom they have been submitted. Contemporary diaries and diaries have long been considered particularly credible evidence, and Vallance himself is highly trusted.
Like Whitty, Vallance is also a prominent physician, but was an expert in vascular medicine rather than an epidemiologist. Born and educated on the eastern fringes of Greater London, he worked and researched at the capital’s St George’s Hospital, before becoming head of medicine at University College Hospital.
Vallance then moved to the private sector, spending more than a decade at GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceutical giant that later produced one of the Covid vaccines, as head of drug development, before becoming chief scientific advisor.
During his five-year tenure, Vallance worked with four prime ministers – Theresa May, Johnson, Liz Truss and Sunak – but it was his affable, if sometimes tense, press conference double act with Johnson that stood out. remained in his memories.
Vallance’s paper has already dealt significant blows to Johnson. It remains to be seen whether his testimony at the inquiry will do even more damage.